Iraqi bishops: This is our Christmas, between hopes and sufferings
Iraqi Christians have suffered at the hands of extremists following the invasion of the country in 2003. They are celebrating Christmas with the hope that their condition is slowly improving.
12/22/2008 Iraq (AsiaNews)-Christmas represents “a moment of celebration and sharing for the entire country.” One can glimpse “little signs of hope” for the Christian community, which still today is victim of “suffering and discrimination.” The government seems to be promoting events helpful for spreading understanding of the celebration among non-Christians as well, like on last Saturday, December 20, in a public park in the eastern section of Baghdad. But there remains the fear that these initiatives are more a “superficial solidarity” which does not restore “true dignity” to the community, in regard to which persecution and discrimination – including at the political level – remain a relevant problem. These are the comments to AsiaNews from some of the Iraqi bishops on the eve of the Christmas celebrations.
“The interior ministry organized a celebration,” says Louis Sako, archbishop of Kirkuk , “the aim of which was to reward those who have struggled for interreligious dialogue and have carried forward initiatives of peace. It is a gesture of solidarity toward Christians, and an invitation to return to Iraq .” The celebration, held on Saturday in the capital, the first public event connected to Christmas, saw the participation of a great number of children (in the photo) accompanied by their families. The celebration was enriched by a tree decorated with Christmas themes, a Santa Claus mingling among the crowd, images of Jesus and of the Virgin Mary, and the flag of Iraq to unite all of the citizens. “Today, all Iraqis are Christians,” said Major Abdul Karim Khalaf, spokesman of the interior ministry. “The celebration was a gesture of friendship for Christians,” continues Archbishop Sako, “and a symbolic condemnation of the violence that our community has had to endure over the past five years.”
Fear, suffering, violence, and persecution are the offspring of five years of war, the fall of Saddam Hussein, and the spiral of violence that has gripped the country. For the bishops, it may have been “easier to celebrate” in the era of the dictator, but even in the midst of atrocious suffering, “the hope of the Christian message that is revealed in a Child has an even stronger value today.” “During Saddam’s time, there were many more restrictions on freedom,” says Archbishop Sako, “and this tight control by the government guaranteed greater security for the Christian community during the celebrations. But today, Christmas is taking on greater significance, because it also represents a rite of conversion. Today, expectation for change is alive.” The archbishop of Kirkuk is referring to a visit on the part of “Arab, Turkmen, and Kurdish delegations, in order to bring their wishes to the Christian community” and announces greater security measures provided by the police. “Although amid so many persecutions,” the prelate concludes, “today we can feel a sense of greater solidarity. It is a slow journey, but new aspects can be glimpsed.”
Greater freedom of thought, finally, is being stressed by Bishop Rabban al Qas, and witnessed to by the presence of 33 private television channels, something that would have been “unthinkable during the regime.” “Of course,” the prelate denounces, “is just as evident that there is greater suffering for the Christian community, but I am optimistic, because by continuing on this path we will reach democracy and freedom.”