Eight years ago, only one Baghdad church was celebrating Christmas, as Iraq’s Christians feared a recurrence of the murders earlier that year of their fellow parishioners and were forced to mark the occasion in the absence of over a thousand families that had already fled.
A Catholic bishop from Iraq has been invited to visit Hungary, according to Tristan Azbej, the Head of the State Secretariat for the Aid of Persecuted Christians of the Prime Minister’s Office, in a message posted on Facebook a few days ago.
The bishop will be asked to share his experiences on the life and fate of communities living in Iraq. He will also be asked how Hungary can best aid innocent Middle-East Christians who are persecuted because of their faith.
“One of our main goals is to save the Iraqi Christians,” said Mr. Azbej.
Eight years ago a tragic event shook the hearts of Catholics in Iraq when Islamist terrorists attacked the Basilica Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad during Sunday Mass. The extremists held the congregation hostage and eventually massacred more than 50 people. Adam Udai, a three-year-old boy and two priests were among the victims.
This is how an article in 2010 recalls how Christmas time was “celebrated”
in the same church earlier that year.
Only 40 people turned up for mass at Our Lady last Sunday. They sang and chanted, a forlorn gathering of survivors, the walls around them spattered with blood and cratered by bullet-holes. The bloodied hand prints of those who failed to escape marked the door in an ante-room.
In front of the altar stood photographs of the dead, including a light-haired smiling four year old boy, Adam Eashoue, and his 33 year old father, Uday. Adam’s grandparents, Zuher and Amal, cannot bear to return to the church.
“I’ve lost my world,” said Amal at her home, who watched as her son and grandson were murdered. “I don’t want to leave Baghdad – I was born and married here. But I have to think of my children.
Her 16 year old daughter, Mirna, dressed in black, described how she played dead to avoid being killed. The house is full of painful reminders: Uday and his wife’s empty room, Adam’s toys, the baby cot for their 11-month-old granddaughter who is now in Italy with her mother and being treated for gunshot wounds.
“After the war, we thought we would stay here and have a future,” said Zuher. “But after what happened at the church I don’t think so. It’s the government’s job to protect us, but they failed.”
Their cousins, Thaer and Nadia, and their two young sons, have already left Baghdad for the Kurdish area in northern Iraq.
“We love Christmas but this year it feels bitter,” said Thaer. “You sit somewhere and you’re afraid; you go shopping and you’re afraid; you go for a walk and you’re afraid. Iraq has become a hell.”