04/04/2007, 00.00
IRAQ
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Mosul: despite bombs and gunfire near churches the faithful have not forsaken Holy Week

Attacks and threats against the often targeted Chaldean parish of the Holy Spirit continue. “We offer our suffering as a token of love for Jesus,” parishioners say. Holy Week rites take place in an underground hall to avoid explosions. Greetings are sent to the Pope, “who always holds the Iraqi people in his heart.”

Mosul (AsiaNews) – Holy Week began with the sound of gunfire at Mosul’s Holy Spirit Parish Church. In this place, where religious services are held in an underground hall for security reasons because the church’s windows have all been blown out by bomb blasts and never replaced, the faithful pray and hope non-stop knowing that every time they attend mass could be their last one. Here is where AsiaNews spoke to some parishioners and heard what they had to say about the dangers and growing insecurity which despite everything have not stopped them from going to church and prepare for Easter. 

Last Sunday, Palm Sunday, three car bombs exploded during the afternoon Eucharistic celebration at a distance of about 1.5 kilometres but the blast was heard in a 35 kilometre radius.

“The building suffered no damage nor did any faithful get hurt. Everyone was scared but no one ran away. And the parish priest (Fr Ragheed Ganni) continued the mass in the underground,” said some of the parishioners.

Some 250 people had come for mass that day, some of whom after the car bombs went off.

At the same time a nearby police station came under attack just before the readings.

“Bullets were flying all over the place, but we remained claim. Fr Ragheed consoled us and urged us to place our trust in God and accept these difficulties as a test of our faith,” those present said.

“At this point, we felt like Jesus when he entered Jerusalem knowing that the Cross would be the consequence of His love for man,” Fr Ragheed said. “So we offered our own suffering as a token of love for Jesus.”

The police station is so close to the church that it represents a risk factor for the Chaldean community and all local residents. It is often threatened and targeted.

“Two weeks ago the Iraqi National Guard post had received threats, but the agents did nothing to prevent the attacks. It almost seems that they are using the church and civilians as a shield,” people say in town.

The area around the parish church, which was recently hit in other attacks, has become a no-go zone. On March 15 two bombs fell on the church during an attack against the police station; the same thing happened on March 30.

“We expect a final attack against the National Guard post any day,” Fr Ragheed said. “But we won’t stop celebrating mass even if we have to stay underground where it is safer. The strength my parishioners have shown has been a source of encouragement for me in making this decision.”

“It’s war, a real war but we hope to bear the Cross until the end with God’s grace,” said another Christian.

Finally, Fr. Ragheed on behalf of his parish sent ‘Easter Greetings’ to the rest of world, especially to the Pope, “who always holds the Iraqi people in his heart.”

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