April 27, amid concern that believers and Jewish people in Iraq will suffer more than ever.
Christians of different denominations in Iraq are trying to protect their churches against looters, and leaders are concerned that the outcome of U.S. talks with Iraqi exiles about a new administration, will lead to the creation of a more radical Islamist government.
"In my mind I keep seeing my son carrying a Kalashnikov to protect the church from looters. I didn’t want this for him," said Ahad, secretary of the Evangelical Protestant Church in Baghdad in an interview with The Washington Post newspaper.
"We are all afraid, for today and for the future. "We have suffered, not only from Saddam but from pollution of the air and the water, from having no jobs and no income," he added. At the same time Christian leaders have told reporters they are relieved that the Saddam Hussein regime is gone.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER
But it doesn’t help that Iraq’ s Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, now in custody by U.S. forces, was an Assyrian Christian. There are around one million Christians in Iraq, a mainly Islamic country of about 24 million people.
Church leaders say they do not know what Aziz’s relationship was with God. Some say he had more "faith in the Baath Party" in which he played a major role since its foundation in the 1950s, and he played a key role in many of the most important moments in Iraq’s history.
Yet, at a recent Baghdad church meeting Rev. Emmanuel Delly expressed some sympathy for the captured Iraqi official, according to The Associated Press. Calling him a "good man," Delly added that "like all of us, he was only doing his duty."
The concern is not limited to Christians. Representatives of the tiny number of Iraqi Jews still living in Baghdad have asked for protection during talks Sunday, April 27, with Iraqi exiles. Before the creation of Israel in 1948 Iraq had reportedly about 60,000 Jews, but most left or fled during the recent decades.
As news about the religious tensions emerged, Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew led close to 2,000 faithful in a candlelight procession in neighboring Turkey at the Cathedral of St. George of Istanbul. He appealed peace in his Easter message.
Similar messages could be heard in Jerusalem, where thousands of mostly Greek and Armenian worshippers participated in a holy fire ceremony at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built on the site where they say Jesus was crucified and buried, news reports said.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin sent his greetings and wishes for good health, happiness and well-being to Russian Orthodox Christians, after it became clear that the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexy II, could not lead an overnight Easter service.
The 74-year-old leader of Orthodox Christianity’s largest church is still recovering from flu and pneumonia, the Voice of America (VOA) network said.
Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter according to the old Julian calendar, named after Julius Caesar, who established it in 46 BC. Western Christians, including Catholics and Protestants, celebrate Easter according to the later Gregorian calendar , which was instituted by Pope Gregory XIII in the year 1582, historians say.