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Church Bells Ring in Baghdad After Bombings  - 2004-10-17

The strength and character of Iraqi Christians was evident Sunday when they answered the call of bells and prayed in churches that had been bombed just the day before.

It was a brave and determined act of solidarity in the name of God. About 100 parishioners of St. Joseph's Catholic church in Baghdad held Sunday services, just one day after the church was almost completely destroyed by a powerful bomb.

"We carry on as we did before. Its just symbolic, to say that whatever they do to us, or to others, we carry on believing in God and praying," said Father Vincent, the priest at St. Joseph's.

Parishioners consoled one another and hugged. And, when the small choir of young girls began to sing, only but a few managed to hold back their tears.

With tears in his eyes, the 13-year-old alter boy, Avil Nabil says the bombing of his church is so terrible. He asks, "what did we do to have this happen to us?" He said he was crying when he saw what happened because, he said, this is a sacred place, a holy place. He said, this is a house of God.

Saturday, five churches in Baghdad were attacked with bombs. At St. Joseph's, the resulting fire gutted the church. The explosion blew gaping holes in two walls and shattered all of the structures stained glass windows.

Saturday, few would have believed services could be held the very next day.

But, in a near non-stop effort, parishioners gathered at the church and worked throughout the night to clear away enough of the charred debris so that Sunday services could be held as scheduled.

47-year-old Ahmajoor Hommus says he is afraid because he knows human beings only live once, not two or three times. However, he says even though Iraq is currently in a state of devastation, he says Jesus Christ suffered much more. He says Christians should learn from him and be more patient, knowing things will eventually improve.

Less than 800,000 Christians live in Iraq, where the total population is about 25 million.

In August, four churches in Baghdad and one in Mosul, in northern Iraq, were bombed on the same day. Numerous people were killed and dozens of others were injured.

It is believed thousands of Christians have since fled Iraq, afraid of more terrorist acts.

64-year-old Fareed Ibrahim, a Christian who runs a store near St. Joseph's church, says about two weeks ago, three men came into her store. She says when they saw a picture of the Virgin Mary hanging on her wall, they told her that Americans are Christians. And, that if they ever saw her speaking with Americans, they would kill her.

Even so, she says she has no intention of leaving Baghdad.

But, 52-year-old Nabid Saliman says he does. Mr. Saliman says when he talks to his relatives and Christian friends, he says they are all thinking of a way to be able to leave Iraq. He says they are appealing to Canada and Australia to make it possible for them to migrate, at least temporarily, until the situation improves in Iraq.

To a person, when asked who they thought was responsible for Saturdays bombings, all of them said, "Only God knows who did it."

Since 1958, Christians and even some Muslims have been attending Sunday services at St. Joseph's church in Baghdad. And, even after getting bombed, that is exactly what they continued doing this Sunday.