Posted by David Chibo (220.127.116.11) on December 27, 2001 at 21:06:30:
CNN SHOW: CNN DAYBREAK 05:00 December 26, 2001
Iraqi Christians Celebrate Christmas Despite Sanctions
by Rym Brahimi
On Christmas Eve, members of the dwindling Iraqi Christian community gather at Baghdad's various churches to attend mass. Since the Gulf War, Iraqis say religious celebrations for
both Muslims and Christians have not been as effective as they once were because of the sanctions. This Christmas there's also something else to worry about: The U.S. may target Iraq
next in the war against terrorism.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
RYM BRAHIMI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: On Christmas Eve, members of the dwindling Iraqi Christian community gather at Baghdad's various churches to attend mass. Since the
Gulf War, Iraqis say religious celebrations for both Muslims and Christians have not been as effective as they once were because of the sanctions. This Christmas there's also something
else to worry about.
SOLOMON WARDUNI, AUXILIARY CHALDEAN BISHOP: Our people sure is not happy now because we are hearing every day that they want to bombard Iraq. They want to
do that - why? Why to do that? There is no need to do all of these things.
BRAHIMI: The majority of Christians in Iraq are Chaldeans. They follow an ancient Eastern Catholic rite performed in Chaldean, Arabic and Aramaic, the language said to have been
spoken by Jesus.
Other churches here follow a Syrian - Syriac Orthodox and Armenian rite. In this recently built Chaldean church, the faithful begin their Christmas mass by lighting a fire, a symbol, they
tell us of the fire lit to warm the manger where Jesus was born.
About three to four percent of Iraq's population is Christians. It lives side by side with the country's Muslims and is left to worship however it pleases. There are no incidents, but most
Christians keep a low profile and are reluctant to discuss their concerns on camera.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): If the Americans are saying they want to bomb us, isn't there something to worry about?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Surely the American people feel for the Iraqi people and doesn't want to see us in this situation.
BRAHIMI (on camera): Privately, many Iraqi Christians acknowledge they were afraid at first that events following the September 11th attacks would put them in an awkward position.
Nothing happened, they say, but statements by accused terrorist Osama bin Laden about waging a war against Christians and infidels or the use by U.S. President Bush of the word
"crusade" made them feel uncomfortable.
(voice-over): So far, however, they seem to have no reason to fear. The Iraqi leadership's party, the Ba'ath, adheres to secularist values, and President Saddam Hussein himself has made
clear he would not tolerate any attempt to divide Iraqis by using religion.
On Sunday, Iraqi TV broadcast the annual ceremony in which the minister of religious affairs hands over gifts of money from the president to Christian charities. Public displays of support
to the Christians that appear to reassure the clerics. Reassuring the people, it seems, is another issue. Of great concern to the Chaldean Church, since the Gulf War, is the increasing
number of youth that leave Iraq, mainly because of the economic situation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These sanctions are causing very bad situations for our people. So the youth has no hope.
BRAHIMI: Out of the one million estimated number of Chaldeans in the world, only about 600,000 still live in Iraq so most Christian youths here try to join their families abroad. In the
meantime, as the church works on how to make them want to stay, their prayers this Christmas remains those of most Iraqis regardless of their faith.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We pray for our country, for sanctions to be lifted. Lifting of sanctions is the most important thing for us. Rym Brahimi, CNN, Baghdad.
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