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In Iraq, an Easter resurrection for Christian communities

Easter Sunday this year marks the return of Christians to several of Baghdad's most battered neighborhoods.

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"You are messengers of peace. Tell everyone that Christians want only peace," the Bishop Warduni told the security officials.

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Young women in denim jeans and sequin-studded T-shirts knelt in prayer next to relatives with their hair partially covered with lace scarves. One of the congregants, Watha Shaba, who had been kidnapped three years ago, reverently unwound a cloth from the bishop's gold and silver scepter. Awide-eyed alter boy furiously rang a bell as incense filled the church.

"Christ is risen," the worshipers recited – the ancient words in an ancient language.

Ousted by Al Qaeda

During the sectarian violence that erupted in 2006, Dora became a stronghold of Al Qaeda in Iraq. In addtion to the Sunni-Shiite violence, fliers told Christians that they would be killed if they openly worshipped, and demanded that they convert to Islam.

When Shiite militias stepped in to fight the Sunni extremists, the neighborhood became too dangerous for almost anyone to stay. "We used to have 3,000 Christian families here – now there are maybe 500," says Gorgis Orawawa, who recently brought his family back from northern Iraq.

Today, the church was filled with families who have had relatives emigrate in the last six years.

"It's a big surprise to see so many people here," says Randa Sabbagh, a college student who returned to Dora with her parents six months ago. They had been living in another Baghdad neighborhood. One brother emigrated to Australia and another went to Syria.

Bishop Warduni blames much of the emigration on European countries and the United Nations, who he says have helped Christians leave Iraq rather than improving conditions for them within the country.

"Instead of searching for jobs for them and helping to bring peace, to bring reconciliation to the country, they accept the immigration. This is bad," he said in an interview earlier this week.

Attacks on Christians in Mosul in November led to another exodus north to Iraqi Kurdistan and beyond Iraq's borders. But a spate of attacks during the last week in Baghdad, which was believed to have become safer in recent months, has many worried.

"One week ago, we were thinking it is much better. But what happened... makes us a little apprehensive because if we have these car bombs it will be no different," the bishop said.

But he vowed that there would always be a Christian community in Iraq.

"This is our country, no one can push us out," said Bishop Warduni. "We were here before everything."

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