The leader of Iraq’s largest Christian community has scrapped Christmas parties, trees, receptions and other festivities “out of respect” for the victims of violent protests which have rocked the country.
Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako of Babylon (Baghdad) said that cancelling the Christmas celebrations was a necessary act of “solidarity” with families affected by the demonstrations, which began in October and have claimed the lives of more than 430 people, with up to 20,000 wounded.
Patriarch Sako said: “We’re not going to install decorated Christmas trees in churches and on the squares and there will be no gold festive ceremonies in the patriarchate.”
He added: “In solidarity with the pain of the families, we’re going to take refuge in … prayer for the victims.”
Church leaders from across Iraq have expressed concern about the regime and especially its response to the protests, which have been described as heavy-handed.
Earlier this month, Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, told the United Nations Security Council: “Instead of bringing hope and prosperity, the current government has brought continued corruption and despair.
“[Iraqi youth] want Iraq to be a place where all can live together as equal citizens in a country of legitimate pluralism and respect for all.”
The protesters demand changes to Iraq’s 2005 constitution, which critics say is biased in favour of the country’s Shia Muslim community, who represent 55 per cent of the population (Sunnis are 40 per cent).
Christians and other minorities claim that the constitution does not adequately protect their rights.
Although religious freedom is upheld in the document, Islam is named as the state religion and the Koran is cited as the country’s foundational legal text.
Church communities in Iraq fear their influence is waning, with Aid to the Church in Need’s 2019 Persecuted and Forgotten? report stating that Christians in the country have fallen to below 250,000 – a decline of 90 per cent within a generation.
John Pontifex is head of press and information, Aid to the Church in Need (UK)
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