Iraqi Christians quietly celebrated Christmas on Tuesday amid improved security, more than a year after the country declared victory over Islamic State militants who threatened to end their 2,000-year history in Iraq.
Christianity in Iraq dates back to the first century of the Christian era, when the apostles Thomas and Thaddeus are believed to have preached the Gospel on the fertile flood plains of the rivers Tigris and Euphrates.
Iraq is home to many different eastern rite churches, both Catholic and Orthodox, traditionally a sign of the country’s ethnic and religious diversity.
But war and sectarian conflict shrank Iraq’s Christian population from 1.5 million to about 400,000 after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Following the onslaught of Islamic State in 2014 and the brutal three-year war that followed their numbers have fallen further, though it is not known exactly by how much.
In Baghdad, Christians celebrated mass on Tuesday morning — declared a national holiday by government — in churches decorated for Christmas. Once fearful, they said they were now hopeful, since conditions had improved.
“Of course we can say the security situation is better than in previous years,” said Father Basilius, leader of the St George Chaldean Church in Baghdad where more than a hundred congregants attended Christmas mass. – READ MORE