A muted Christmas in Iraq

When I think back on Christmas coverage in the past few years, stories about the plight of Christians in Iraq always stand out for me. Things have been unbelievably bleak for a while and yet somehow this year they took a turn for the worse. It was only Oct. 31 that Muslim terrorists affiliated with Al Qaeda seized the Syriac Catholic cathedral in Baghdad. Some 44 worshipers, two priests and seven security personnel died and 60 were wounded. You can look back to some of our questions about or praise of previous coverage Iraqi Christians at Christmas here and here.

The New York Times offers up an account of the most recent holy day:

As they gathered to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the congregation here first contemplated death, represented by a spare Christmas tree decked with paper stars, each bearing a photograph of a member of a nearby church killed in a siege by Islamic militants in October.

The congregants on Friday night were fewer than 100, in a sanctuary built for four or five times as many. But they were determined. This year, even more than in the past, Iraqi's dwindling Christian minority had reasons to stay home for Christmas.

"Yes, we are threatened, but we will not stop praying," the Rev. Meyassr al-Qaspotros told the Christmas Eve crowd at the Sacred Church of Jesus, a Chaldean Catholic church. "We do not want to leave the country because we will leave an empty space."

He added: "Be careful not to hate the ones killing us because they know not what they are doing. God forgive them."

The story does a nice job of attempting to quantify what's happening to Christians, as this excerpt demonstrates. And it fills in some blanks regarding Christians who worship elsewhere -- as well as Christians who are not members of the Chaldean Catholic church.

Quoting from the sermon and describing the worship of the congregation is something that seems so basic but occasionally gets overlooked or poorly done. The reporter did a good job of taking a poignant and relevant portion of the sermon. I wonder, too, if the quote isn't also a reference to St. Stephen, proto-martyr, who uttered these words as he was stoned to death. I'm not sure about the calendar differences, but we commemorate him today in the Lutheran church.

On the numbers issue, this story says Iraqi Christians used to number 1.4 million. This Agence France Presse story, however, says it was only about 800,000 before the war. It might be nice to have some sourcing for any and all numbers. Either way, the plight of the Iraqi Christian diaspora seems to be noticed more by those in Europe than those in the United States. At least, that's what the coverage indicates.

Here's a story about the European Parliament welcoming a delegation of Christian leaders from Iraq and Lebanon to discuss these Iraqi Christians who have been forced to flee from Muslim terrorists in Iraq. And here's a story about German Chancellor Angela Merkel's administration urging Germany to do more to help Iraq's Christian minority.

Christians in Iraq aren't the only ones whose Christmas was less than peaceful. Reuters is covering the story of Christmas in Nigeria:

Explosions in Nigeria's central region killed 32 people on Christmas Eve and six people died in attacks on two churches in the northeast of Africa's most populous nation, officials said on Saturday.

On Friday night, a series of bombs were detonated during Christmas Eve celebrations in villages near the central city of Jos, killing at least 32 people while 74 were in a critical condition, the state police commissioner said.

Nigeria's army chief said the blasts were not part of religious clashes which flare up sporadically as tensions bubble under the surface in a country where the population is split roughly equally between Muslims and Christians.

"It (Jos explosions) was caused by a series of bomb blasts. That is terrorism, it's a very unfortunate incident," Azubuike Ihejirika said in the southern city of Port Harcourt.

It's a fine point but the piece discusses how there's a governing agreement between the north and south of the country. The north is largely Muslim, the south largely Christian. The northern leader died in office so a southern leader took over. Some northerners are upset. Fighting is being instigated to exploit some of these existing tensions. On the other hand, some of these attacks really are just about killing Christians, the article points out:

"What happened (in Jos) was not religious it was political ... the aim of the masterminds is to pit Christians against Muslims and start another round of violence," the governor of Plateau state said.

In a separate incident, at least six people were killed in what appeared to be religiously motivated attacks on two churches in the northeastern city of Maiduguri.

Attackers threw petrol bombs late on Friday at a church in the city, killing five people, including a Baptist pastor. A security guard at a nearby church died in a similar assault.

There's another helpful article here.

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