News

Fear and Defiance Mark Christmas for Iraqi Christians

Multimedia

Audio

After a year of church bombings, assassinations, kidnappings, and death threats, many Christians in predominantly Muslim Iraq have canceled plans to attend Christmas observances this year. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu went to a Christmas Eve mass in Baghdad and reports that only a few people braved the dangers of going to church.

Catholic Priest Peter Haddad shakes his head with disappointment, as he looks across the rows of empty pews at the Virgin Mary Church in central Baghdad.

It is Christmas Eve and barely 70 people are sitting in a church built to hold more than 700. "If you [had] seen this church some years ago, [there was] no place to sit! All the churches [were] full of people, even here and even in the streets," said Father Haddad.

Attendance across Iraq's churches has plummeted in the past year as attacks against Iraqi-Christians and churches have soared.

The attacks include the coordinated bombings in August of four churches in Baghdad and another in the northern city of Mosul. Earlier this week, there were reports three more churches in Mosul were damaged by improvised bombs.

Iraqi-Christians say Muslim extremists are targeting them in the belief that the American-led war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq was an attack by the Christian West against Islam. Affluent Christians have also become the favorite target of criminal gangs who prey on them because of their ability to pay large ransoms.

Unable to cope with the rising insecurity, as many as 50,000 of Iraq's 800,000 Christians are believed to have fled to neighboring Jordan and Syria in the past year and a half.

Those who have stayed in Iraq are doing as little as possible to bring attention to themselves, including avoiding church on Christmas Eve. Some churches have canceled Christmas services altogether - something unheard of even during Saddam's reign.

Inside the Virgin Mary Church Friday night, the small congregation singing Christmas songs was the only indication that this was a mass to celebrate Christmas.

There were no lights or decorations adorning the walls of the church. Many worshipers shunned bright-colored clothing and some women kept their faces hidden behind scarves.

Outside, 20 heavily armed Iraqi National Guards in black ski masks stood guarding the church entrance. Concrete blocks and gun-mounted military Humvee vehicles sealed off the road in front of the church to prevent an attack.

Despite the gloomy and tense atmosphere, Dalida Sarkis, 31, says she came to church determined to keep up the Christmas spirit.

Ms. Sarkis says she refuses to be intimidated by fear because she believes God will protect her. But the young mother of four quickly adds that if the security situation deteriorates further for Christians, she may have no choice but to leave Iraq.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs