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.
    London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunitiesi
    X
    VOA News
    July 25, 2016 5:09 PM
    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Four Brother Goats Arrive in Brooklyn on a Mission

    While it's unusual to see farm animals in cities, it's become familiar for residents of Brooklyn, New York, to see a little herd of goats. Unlike gas-powered mowing equipment, goats remove invasive weeds quietly and without adding more pollution to the air. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this is a pilot program and if it proves to be successful, the goat gardener program will be extended to other areas of New York. Faith Lapidus narrates.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora