Iraqi Christians held service Sunday in the Karrada neighborhood of Baghdad even after the church was left charred following a spate of explosions at five churches around the city the day before.
"We came here to pray and not to make a political or religious statement,” said Father Mansour al-Mukhallessi in what was left of the St. George Catholic Church after flames from Saturday’s explosions engulfed it.
“We are here to ask God's forgiveness for those who destroy churches and places of worship," the elderly priest told AFP.
Despite the heavy damage left by Saturday’s explosions that hit St. George Church and four other churches across Baghdad early Saturday, the church and its parishioners had gathered. Fifty people came and walked amid the ruins, AFP reported, their shoes coated in ash. They had put on their Sunday clothes, not willing to change anything despite the act of hatred directed against their community.
“After the attack, Father Mansour had come to check the damage and he told me that he would hold a service on Sunday like always,” said the church’s caretaker Nabil Jamil, who also saw the baptism of his son during the service.
Although many of Iraq's Christians, increasingly targeted by insurgents, are fleeing Baghdad for the safety of the Kurdish north or neighboring Syria and Jordan many insist the exodus is temporary because they are not selling their homes and property. They will wait it out and return when the situation improves, remaining Christians say.
"The foreigner is trying to create division and enmity between Christians and Muslims. We must stand hand in hand and heart to heart and not give the outsider cause to divide us," one local Christian told the Associated Press.
He and all the dozen Christians interviewed Saturday said the attacks were not the work of Muslim Iraqis, but foreigners.
"They want us to leave Iraq," said Surah Samaan, a 25-year-old lab technician, referring to the attackers, who she believes are Arabs linked to al-Qaida.
According to Yonadem Kana, secretary general of the Assyrian Democratic Movement, more than 100 Christians had been murdered after the U.S.-led war, including 35 liquor vendors and others who worked for coalition forces. About 200 more have died in the general violence that has gripped Iraq. Insurgents have been targeting many Iraqis who are seen as helping the U.S.-led forces, and extremist militiamen have often targeted people in occupations seen as breaking Islamic rules.
Currently, in the predominantly Muslim Iraq, the Christian population is estimated to be around 700,000.