By BosNewsLife Middle East Service
BAGHDAD, IRAQ (BosNewsLife)– Christians in Iraq have canceled several church services, including traditional Christmas Eve midnight Masses, amid fears of more violence after more than a dozen bonbings in the capital Baghdad killed some 60 people this week and other violence claims at least 7 lives elsewhere, Catholic and other church officials said.
Chaldean Catholic officials told Vatican Radio that they also halted Christmas Eve midnight Masses because of security risks. They said Iraqi Christians will spend Christmas in “great fear”.
“We have many difficulties because of the situation that there is no peace and no security, permanent security,” said Bishop Mar Shlemon Warduni, Auxiliary Bishop of the Patriarchate of Babylon, Iraq, of the Chaldean Catholic Church. “So for these days of Christmas and the New Year, we hope to celebrate the feast, but not Midnight [Mass], because there are too many difficulties,” he added
Yet, the despite the difficulties, he said it was “the duty” for Christians in Iraq “pray for peace.”
It was not clear if all congregations would be closed and Christians were still expected to celebrate Christmas in private homes.
Bishop Warduni said Christians in Iraq were asking “the Child of Bethlehem to give us this security and peace, to give us joy and peace, and we cry with angels ‘Glory be to the Lord in the highest heaven, and peace on the earth.”
He added that “We ask Him this…not only for the Iraqi people, for Christians in Iraq, but for everybody in the Middle East.”
Iraq’s Christians, markedly fewer in number following attacks on their minority community, have said ther are concerned about a rise in sectarian tensions after last week’s withdrawal of US troops.
Estimated to number at least 750,000 and possibly a million when the US-led invasion of 2003 began, many two-thirds of them have now fled, including to neighboring states, according to church estimates.
Christians have been mainly living in Baghdad, the main northern city of Mosul, and the disputed oil hub of Kirkuk.
Their plight was highlighted by an October 31, 2010, assault on a Baghdad church by Al-Qaeda that left 44 worshippers, two priests and seven security force members dead. Christians said the attack further accelerated the exodus.
Iraq became one “of the biggest movers” in the advocacy group Open Doors ‘World Watch List’ (WLL) of the “worst” nations for Christians the group explained. “It moved from position 17 to 8” on the WLL 2011, the group added.
It cited a “high number” of anti-Christian attacks, which led to many casualties, and an increase of kidnapped Christians as among the reasons for moving Iraq to the top 10 of countries with the worst treatment of Christians.
This year, there have been several deadly attacks against Iraqi Christians, including in May when Christians said the body of 29-year-old Chaldean Christian construction worker Ashur Issa Yaqub was found with marks of severe torture and mutilation.
Members of terror group Al-Qaeda, who kidnapped him in the northeastern city of Kirkuk, apparently demanded a roughly $100,000 ransom for his release and pressured his employer to fire him because he was a Christian.
In January, a group of “terrorists” reportedly attacked a Christian family in their house at Al-Karada quarter in Baghdad and killed a woman, Rafah Toma, who earlier survived a deadly attack on the nearby Syrian Catholic Church.
Several attacks have been linked to Muslim militants, who view Christianity as a Western religion and want to turn the nation into a more strict Islamic nation.