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In Mosul , Iraqi Christians Brave the Violence to Celebrate Christmas

ICC Note

Christians in the city of Mosul celebrated Christmas despite the unprecedented persecution they have been facing.

By Sam Dagher

12/25/2008 Iraq (The New York Times)-Iraqi Christians in the northern city of Mosul say this year has been the worst in living memory. After a wave of killings and attacks in October, more than 2,000 families fled to nearby villages.

Mosul remains one of the most dangerous places in Iraq and a stubborn holdout of the insurgency, but security has improved enough that at least half of those families have returned. On Thursday, they braved the violence and biting cold and rain to attend Christmas Masses and pray for their safety.

Another Mass, at St. Paul ’s on the east side of the city, was held on Wednesday afternoon instead of on Christmas Eve because of security precautions.

But many of the Christians who have returned said they did so because they were inspired by the determination and faith of one priest and a handful of nuns to remain in the city against the odds.

At St. Paul’s, Mikhail Ibrahim said the only reason he returned to Mosul after fleeing for a few weeks with his family was because of his faith in the Rev. Basman George Fatouhi, the Chaldean Church’s de facto leader in Mosul.

“He was the only one who stayed and took care of the community,” Mr. Ibrahim said. “He told us to come back and we did.”

Father Fatouhi, a charismatic 27-year-old priest, was thrust into the effective leadership of the Chaldean Church in Mosul after the kidnapping and death this year of its leader, Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho. Archbishop Rahho’s closest aide, another senior figure in the church, was killed in 2007.

There is ample evidence to suggest that many of the kidnappings and killings of Christians were carried out by Sunni militant groups and that ransom money has gone to finance the insurgency. But there is increased talk among Christians and the central government in Baghdad that the violence may be the work of Kurds who want to push Christians in Nineveh to ask to have their historic lands absorbed into the relative safety of Kurdistan .

Amid the violence, the few remaining church leaders like Father Fatouhi and Sister Autour Yousif, who also belongs to the Chaldean Church , are working against the tide to keep their faith alive.

On numerous occasions the pair have found themselves carrying out the grim task of collecting the bodies of Christians from the morgue because their families were too afraid to do it.

Sister Yousif is among three nuns at a convent next to the Miskinta church who have refused to leave Mosul . They care for 27 orphan girls and reach out to Muslims and Christians alike.

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