ICC Note: Libya, host to more than 100,000 Christians prior to 2011, may only have a few thousand remaining. The chaos of the post-Gadhafi era has turned the country into a breeding ground for Islamic extremists. Yet, for Christians who remain their faith is still a crucial part of life and they continue worshiping even despite the risks. Christmas offers a time of hope, especially for those who face persecution for their faith.
12/21/2015 Syria (Your Middle East) – In the capital of war-torn Libya, a dwindling Christian community of foreign workers leave their fears and anxieties at the church door as they gather for Christmas carols and laughter.
Lisa, a 47-year-old Filipina nurse, said she had just celebrated the festival of lights “for the tenth consecutive year” at Saint Francis Church, referring to the start of advent and the Christmas season.
Lisa, who has worked at a private clinic in Tripoli for 15 years, held a candle in one hand and adjusted her Santa Claus hat with the other.
Around her, excited children ran around before being directed to Bible class, as rooms in the church filled with the sounds of hymns and laughter.
Since the 2011 fall of dictator Moamer Kadhafi, the small community’s fears for its safety have increased, especially after jihadists claimed to have killed dozens of Christians in the country this year.
But every Friday — a day off in Libya — they still flock to Saint Francis, one of the capital’s only churches still open, to pray and support each other.
In a central courtyard, men and women from the Philippines, India and several African nations exchange news as they sell products from their home countries.
Jollof rice and peanut soup are on offer beside colourful textiles, home remedies and specialised hair products.
Most Westerners fled Libya after August 2014, when an Islamist-backed militia alliance overran Tripoli, prompting the internationally recognised government to flee to the country’s far east.
But with little hope of finding work back home, workers from Asia, Africa and other parts of the Arab world opted to stay put.
More than 100,000 Christians lived in Libya before the 2011 revolution that toppled Kadhafi, said Father Magdi, an Egyptian priest who arrived in Libya before the uprising.
“Today, we’re only about 5,000 — and less than 1,000 in Tripoli,” he said.