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ICC Note: Praise God for the peace loving Muslim clerics that joined the Christmas service
Iraqis Crowd Churches for Christmas Mass
By ELENA BECATOROS

Iraq/Islam ( for the full story go to AP) – Thousands of Iraqi Christians made their way to church through checkpoints and streets lined with blast walls, many drawing hope from a lull in violence to celebrate Christmas Mass in numbers unthinkable a year ago.

“We did not celebrate last year, but this year we have security and we feel better,” said Rasha Ghaban, one of many women at the small Church of the Holy Family in Karradah, a mainly Shiite district in downtown Baghdad where many Christians live. “We hope our future will be better, God willing.”

Families streamed into the church’s courtyard, wrapped in heavy winter jackets to protect them from the early morning chill. Young children with neatly combed hair held their parents’ hands, and women stopped by the front door to pick through a basket of small lacy headscarves, placing them over their hair before walking in.

The pews were almost full—women toward the back and on the right side of the church, the men on the left—and still more people streamed in. Outside, police armed with automatic rifles manned a checkpoint at the corner of the narrow street, searching every passing car for possible bombs.

Christians have often been the target of attacks by Islamic extremists in Iraq, forcing tens of thousands to flee

Muslim clerics—both Sunni and Shiite—also attended the service in a sign of unity.

“May Iraq be safe every year, and may our Christian brothers be safe every year,” Shiite cleric Hadi al-Jazail told AP Television News outside the church. “We came to celebrate with them and to reassure them.”

William Jalal, a 39-year old father of three attending Mass at Mar Eliya, said this Christmas was clearly different.

“We didn’t celebrate like this in the past two years as we were holding limited celebrations for relatives in an atmosphere filled with fear,” said Jalal, a cook in one of Baghdad’s social clubs. “Now we feel better as we see all these security forces in the streets to protect us.”

“Here, I feel my soul is at rest,” said Matti Gordese, a 40-year-old father of four originally from Baghdad. “I can practise my religion without feeling that suddenly, a bomb will explode and kill you in God’s house.”