iraqi christians mark somber christmas in baghdad - black plastic sheeting
BAGHDAD-Iraqi Christians gathered in the same church Saturday to celebrate Christmas, and less than two months ago, dozens of people from their troubled communities were killed by Muslim extremists who intend
There are bullet holes in the walls, plastic sheets cover the gaps in the glass windows, and small pieces of dry meat and blood still stick to the ceiling.
The altar was hung with pictures of dead parishioners, and two black cassocks were hung on the wall, representing two priests killed in the October massacre.
Archbishop Matti Shaba Matouka told the congregation: "Love Will Save Us no matter how violent the storm is . ".
The storm hit Iraqi Christians violently this fall.
On October, the gunmen attacked our church of the Lady of Salvation.
On the 31st, more than 120 people were hijacked in a siege that ended with 68 deaths.
A few days later, a series of bombings took place outside the Christian family and in the Christian community, threatening the family.
Iraqi church officials have canceled many Christmas celebrations, such as Santa Claus or mass at night, for fear of their parish residents in al-
This week, al-Qaida threatened more violence against them.
A low-key celebration is also a painful respect for the community.
But of the more than 300 people gathered in the church on Saturday, many were surrounded by concrete explosion-proof walls and security personnel who said they would not be intimidated and gave up their faith or their country.
There is a homemade sign hanging outside the building that says the church will prosper during oppression.
"I love my country.
I buried my parents here.
I can't leave it, "said Babba Yousuf, 52. year-
The old lady who joined her family for morning service.
"We believe in God and he will protect us.
"Some parishioners said they didn't buy a Christmas tree and there was no reason to be happy.
Rath Amir says he and his family spend most of their time at home because they are too scared to go out.
They did not buy gifts, nor did they buy a tree, but he said that the attack on the church strengthened the will of many Christians.
The church was baptized by the blood of martyrs.
"It gives us more motivation to celebrate Christmas in the church, despite what happened to us," he said . ".
According to a recent State Department report, Christian leaders estimate that between 400,000 and 600,000 Christians still live in Iraq.
At some point before the war, the number was as high as 1.
Some estimates are 4 million. U. N.
Officials estimate that some 1,000 Christian families have fled to a relatively safe place in northern Iraq after the church was besieged.
Many Christians have traveled to the 160-mile-long Kurdish city of Suleiman. 260 kilometers)
The three provinces that make up the Kurdish region are much safer than many other parts of Iraq.
After the church was besieged, Sheat Jubran came with his three children, but the grief on Saturday relieved his mood.
"How do we celebrate when Christians are killed every day in Iraq?
"They killed our children and believers in prayer and they continue to commit the ugliest crimes against Christians," he said . ".
The prospect of Christians fleeing Iraq forever worries many Iraqis, including Shiite and Sunni Muslims.
At a parliamentary meeting on Saturday, Speaker Osama al-
Nujaifi has called on Christians not to leave the country but to stay in their communities and homes.
"Iraqis do not want the bells and Carols of the church to be suppressed," he said . ".
_ AP Bushra Juhi in Baghdad and Yahya Barzanji in Sulaimaniya contributed to the report.