Defiant Christians Gather in Baghdad for Christmas Mass

Iraqi Christmas EveBy Saif Hameed. Baghdad’s embattled Christian community worshipped defiantly Wednesday night at Christmas Eve mass.

The pews filled at Baghdad’s Sacred Heart church, as people remembered the darkest year in memory.

Blast walls shielded the church and seven policeman flanked the outside of the house of worship, in an indication of the government’s fear of an attack on the religious groups by jihadists who consider them non-believers.

The congregation sang in unison: “Praise Jesus, our Lord. Oh praise him” as incense burnt in the darkened church. Read more from this story HERE.


In Iraq, displaced but defiant Christians gather for a somber Christmas

By Molly Hennessey Fiske. The children awoke the day before Christmas behind blast walls and armed guards, in a dingy Syrian Catholic schoolhouse strung with clotheslines. Their families have been cooking on hot plates and sleeping on pallets there in recent months, forced from their homes in northern Iraq by Islamic State militants.

They took turns showering in the communal bathroom, dressed in donated clothes and prepared to meet Santa.

This year, there would be no big holiday parties at Our Lady of Salvation, a local landmark topped by a towering cross that’s visible for miles. Christians are leaving Iraq, the population down from more than 1 million a decade ago to about 350,000, many of them displaced.

In the north, Islamic State fighters have forced thousands to flee. In Baghdad, where the security situation is still so tenuous that priests worried that celebrations could provoke an attack. Last Christmas, three bombings targeted Christians, including a Roman Catholic church, and killed 38 people.

Shortly before the 6 p.m. Christmas Eve service, the children and their families filed out of the school past concrete barriers topped with barbed wire and into the packed church for several hours of singing and prayer, the highlight of their day, hoping the strangers they met meant them no harm. Read more from this story HERE.

Traditions of Christmas Found Only in Memory

By Tim Arango. For months now, since militants of the Islamic State stormed her hometown, Qaraqosh, in northern Iraq, near Mosul, and began killing and driving out Christians, home for Miriam and dozens of her old neighbors has been the run-down Al Makasid Primary School in Baghdad. To get by, they have relied on the kindnesses of the nearby church, and of local Muslims, too.

In the school’s dingy courtyard there is a tree, trimmed in balls and bells, and a Nativity scene. A few gifts have been donated — toys, clothes, dolls and candies. It is not much, and nothing like being at home, but Christmas has not been the same in Iraq for a long time now.

Two numbers tell that story. In 2003, when the Americans invaded, there were an estimated 1.5 million Christians living in Iraq. Today, experts say, there are fewer than 400,000, many of them on the run from the Islamic State. Read more from this story HERE.