Iraqi Christians mark a restrained Easter
With violence still a threat, Iraqi Christians observed Easter from behind blast walls that have turned many churches into fortresses, or at home. At St. Joseph's in Baghdad, Monsignor Casha planned to urge parishioners to stay in Iraq and try to rebuild.
Iraqi Christians marked a restrained Easter weekend as fear of attacks kept many from openly celebrating their most sacred day of the year and church officials urged them not to give up on the country.Skip to next paragraph
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At Our Lady of Salvation, where gunmen and suicide bombers killed at least 52 worshipers and guards in October, the church was tightly locked. Only the arch and cross on the church roof were visible behind the 10-foot high concrete walls that have turned most churches in Baghdad into miniature fortresses.
“Our churches have become like prisons,” says Monsignor Pious Casha, a senior religious official who arrived at Our Lady of Salvation moments after Iraqi special forces stormed the church during the siege last fall. “The barbed wire and concrete are new. Yes, they protect the churches, but they make the worshipers spiritually constrained.”
Iraqi police guarding Our Lady of Salvation said the doors would be opened only moments before the Saturday evening mass. “It’s more like a museum than a church,” said one of the police officers. He said they tried to keep out those who were simply curious or, he implied, there to gather intelligence.
Christians hit especially hard by violence
Like other minorities, Christians, because of their small numbers, have been disproportionately hit by violence. Many blame the United States for the turmoil that replaced the relative security they enjoyed even under Saddam Hussein’s repressive regime. Some of those who remain are a testament to resiliency.
Vivienne Matti was among the faithful trickling into St. Joseph’s Catholic church in the relatively affluent neighborhood of Mansour. Her husband and three children were killed four months after Saddam was toppled when American soldiers, thinking they were a threat, fired on their vehicle.
Matti’s youngest child, six years old, had been seated in her lap.
“I’ve seen death myself. I’m not afraid anymore,” she said.
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