Since October 1st, anti-government protestors in Iraq have been met with violence from police and security forces. At least 400 people have been killed by security forces. The protests are driven by young people, and a main Christian presence in the country, the Chaldean Catholic Church, is supporting their efforts. Out of respect for the lives lost recently, the head of the church is canceling all public displays of Christmas celebration.
“Morally and spiritually we cannot celebrate in such an atmosphere of tension … it’s not normal to celebrate our joy and happiness while others are dying. That doesn’t work,” Louis Raphaël I Sako, the head of the Chaldean Catholic Church and the president of the Iraqi Bishop’s Conference, told AP news.
The Chaldean Catholic Church Will Not Decorate for Christmas
Traditionally, Christmas celebrations in Iraq have included receptions of politicians and religious leaders where gifts are exchanged and meals are shared. However, this year Patriarch Sako has canceled all public celebrations of Christmas out of respect for the lives lost in the anti-government protests as well as those who have been wounded.
According to Agenzia Fides, Patriarch Sako says the resources they would have spent on things like decorations and parties should be donated to orphanages and hospitals. In addition, churches will not be decorated with their traditional Christmastime decorations like Christmas trees. Patriarch Sako is asking for prayers in lieu of parties this year.
In addition to his Christmas appeal to Iraqi Christians, Patriarch Sako has another appeal to Christians around the world. In the season of Advent, Patriarch Sako is asking for prayers to see Christians return to the Nineveh plain in Iraq, “the cradle of Christianity.” Countless Christians have fled the area or been killed in recent years due to fighting with Islamist extremists and terrorist groups. In fact, other Christian leaders such as Pope Francis and Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Cantebury, have also sounded the alarm, going so far as to say that Christianity in this part of the world is in danger of being wiped out entirely.
Speaking to the urgency of their situation, Patriarch Sako released the following statement to Asia News:
On the eve of two important festivities for the plain of Nineveh, that of St. Barbara and St. Behnam, I wish to thank all the communities, the humanitarian associations linked to the Churches and the NGOs that have lavished energy and commitment to allow Christians to return to the region. Which is, among other things, their historical cradle.
We are that we originate from the mountains of northern Iraq, or that we live in the center of Baghdad, but the same is true for the south, in Basra, each of us – Christians of Iraq – has its roots in the plain of Nineveh. I still remember with grief the exodus in front of the jihadist militias attack of the Islamic State (SI, ex Isis) in 2014, which pushed Christians to abandon their homes. And at the time of the liberation of the territories from the yoke of Daesh [Arabic acronym for the SI], the discovery of the destructions and the lootings that have hit houses, churches, schools, etc.
In each of these moments of trial, we have been able to count on the concrete support of the faithful and benefactors who have come from various parts of the world.
Today, two years after the liberation from Daesh, the plain of Nineveh always needs the help of our brothers and sisters, who pray and commit themselves for us by giving us a hand. For this reason, today I am here to address an appeal to you, the NGOs, the social realities, ecclesiastical institutions, churches, communities and Western governments. We still need your help, so that all the people of the plain of Nineveh – who wish – can remain in their homes or those who have been displaced and fled in the past can return to the plain and live in dignity. Knowing that the defeat of ISIS in the region does not mean that we should no longer help its inhabitants or should not act to help them.
On the contrary, there is a fundamental need to help our young people to rebuild their future so that they can find a job in their homeland, in their land which is the plain of Nineveh. In order for families to survive and recover in the area, there is an essential need for a global plan dedicated to the health sector: a network of services ranging from small clinics to hospitals. I turn strongly to all the “actors” in the game, so that they may work in a special way to restore life in the plain of Nineveh, supporting and accompanying those who wish to return, and again, encouraging local agricultural projects, trade, breeding, etc.
This goal can be achieved in collaboration with the bishops of Mosul and the plain of Nineveh and their teams. In this regard it is worth remembering that the Chaldeans have a new bishop in Mosul and Akra, who today resides in the town of Karamles.
Today, in this period of early Advent, I want to urge all the Christians of the world to pray for Iraq and, especially, for the plain of Nineveh. O Jesus Christ, give strength to all those who have the desire to return, to rebuild and live happily and peacefully in this beautiful plain of Nineveh. Because the future of Iraqi Christians passes through the plain of Nineveh.
Please continue to keep the Christians in Iraq in your prayers.