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Iraqi exiles prepare for a sad Christmas

By Suha Philip Ma’ayeh

12/22/2009 Iraq (The National) – Inside a church in Jordan’s capital one Iraqi Christian puts the final touches on a Christmas grotto. But for the 50-year-old man who fled Iraq with his family 10 months ago, getting into the spirit of the festive season will not be easy.
“Christmas is the new birth but we are not happy. We do not feel it is Christmas,” said the Iraqi, who did not want to give his name.
Years of persecution at the hands of extremist groups since the US–led war erupted in 2003 have forced hundreds of thousands of Christians to flee their homes. Before the war, Iraqi clergy estimated there were one million Christians in Iraq, but now the number has dropped to 400,000.

His Christmas blues are a feeling shared by many Iraqi Christians. In the past six years, large numbers were either killed, kidnapped or threatened while several churches were bombed, and their clergy murdered.

About 20,000 Iraqi Christians live in Jordan, the vast majority of whom are adherents of the Chaldean denomination – followers of the eastern Catholic churches that are independent from Rome but recognise the pope. Another 50,000 Iraqi Christians are also in Syria.

Outside their country, Iraqi Christians cling to roots that date back to the early days of Christianity. At the evening mass this week inside the Chaldean church, Father Raymond Moussalli prayed in Arabic and Aramaic, the ancient language used by Christ. He also read a Bible chapter about Jesus’s birth.

A church choir sang Christmas hymns and Father Moussalli announced that Santa Claus would be distributing presents for Iraqi children as part of Christmas festivities.
But even for the priest, Christmas has its other side too.
“Christmas is becoming a sad occasion. At this time of the year, we remember the Iraqi children who were martyred,” he said in an interview. “Until now, Christians are threatened, and the churches are attacked. There is a deliberate campaign to drive Christians outside the country. There are satanic plans that are not only targeting Iraqi Christians in Iraq but Christians throughout the Middle East, starting with Palestine. This is scary.”

He said many Iraqi Christians are separated from their families, and without jobs, they are having trouble making ends meet.

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