Christmas in Baghdad

Midnight Services Pushed Forward Amid Violence
( [email protected] ) Dec 25, 2003 11:33 AM EST

Christians in Baghdad celebrated their traditional midnight Christmas Eve services eight hours early due to the continued violence between American armed guards and Iraqi insurgents.

"There will be no midnight mass at all churches in Baghdad without exception," Reverend Joseph Attisha of St. Joseph's Cathedral in another part of Karrada said.

The majority of the churches in the Iraqi capital decided to hold the midnight observances between 4 and 5 pm because of the chaos that continues to strike the city.

"People have no confidence to leave their homes because of the security situation," added the Dominican friar who belongs to Iraq's biggest Christian denomination, the Chaldean Catholic Church.

Two police vans blocked the road to St. Joseph Kharbandla Chaldean Church and armed guards were posted on roof tops overlooking Baghdad's biggest Christian shrine in the southern Karrada district.

"We have never lived a situation like this before, but its good to talk and come here. I am going to pray for all Iraqis," said Nawad Ellia, 60, as she filed into the half empty pews.

"We are not asking for much except to be able to go on with our lives as usual," said Udjdan Nuri, a 60-year-old retired engineer.

In his homily, the newly appointed patriarch of the Chaldean church, Bishop Emmanuel Karim Delly, called on the faithful to pray for peace.

"We must turn a new page," he told his congregation, who make up about 500,000 out of Iraq's total Christian population of 700,000, according to some church estimates.

Tareq Bolous, a 52-year-old Chaldean, seemed unaware of the rescheduled mass but added that in any case he would be taking no chances about venturing out after dark.

"We are going to celebrate mostly at home, we are not going to the midnight mass," said the owner of a laundry shop in the predominantly Christian Karrada.

"I do not think there is a threat of Islamists attacking Christians, it is more thieves taking advantage of a family walking at night on the street," said the father of five.

Further north in the mostly Sunni Muslim Azamiyeh neighbourhood, officials at St. Anne Church said they had asked Americans not to visit them during Christmas for fear that attacks against US troops could endanger worshippers.

Security fears and the fuel shortage were also damping Christmas celebrations for the 300 Baghdadis who worship at the Protestant Seventh Day Adventist Church off Andalus Square in the southeast of the capital.

"We are moving our celebrations to Saturday morning because of the situation," said Oweida Wahaba, the church's Egyptian pastor.