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UPDATE-IRAQ: No Assyrian/Christian Casualties in Iraq Christmas Day Bombings

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Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) is reporting that On December 25, 2013 multiple news agencies, including AINA, reported the twin bombings in Dora, a formerly Assyrian [also known as Chaldean and Syriac] and Christian neighborhood in southern Baghdad. One bombing occurred outside of St. John Catholic Church. The explosion killed 27 and wounded 56. A second bomb exploded in an outdoor market, killing 11 and wounding 21.

According to the wire reports, dozens of Christians were killed in the bombings.

AFP quoted a police colonel, saying “The attack targeted the church, and most of the martyrs are Christians. The attack happened when worshippers were leaving the church.”

Reuters quoted a policeman, saying “A car parked near the church exploded when the families were hugging each other goodbye before leaving. The blast was powerful…Bodies of women, girls and men were lying on the ground covered in blood. Others were screaming and crying while they were trying to save some of their wounded relatives.”

The Patriarch of the Chaldean Church, H.H. Louis Sako, issued a statement saying the attack was not directly targeted at the church. Also, Archdeacon Temathius Esha, an Assyrian priest in Dora, told AFP “The church has nothing to do with the attack, the attack was against the market.”

There is no doubt that these bombings occurred and that dozens of persons were killed. But questions were raised about the number of Assyrian/Christian fatalities, beginning with Patriarch Sako’s statement.

AINA contacted two Assyrians in Iraq to ascertain the facts of the case.

According to Pascale Warda, Iraq’s former Minister of Displacement and Migration, no attacks against churches occurred and there were no Christian casualties. “What some media reported was not right because the attack in Dora was in the market, where some other poor people were wounded, but not a single Christian was hurt, and no church was attacked.”

The priest of St. John Catholic Church, Fr. Firas, told Pascale Warda the attack was far from the church and no there were no Assyrian casualties. Fr. Tima, of the Assyrian Church in Dora, also told Mrs. Warda that his church had not been attacked.

The Christmas mass at St. John ended at 9 AM, the attack occurred at 11 AM.

According to Susan Patto, an Assyrian in Baghdad, because of previous church attacks, all churches have discontinued midnight mass and conduct mass very early in the morning, from 7 to 9 AM, and parishioners are discouraged from congregating outside the church after mass.

“The explosion happened after 11 AM.’ says Suan Patto, “There is a police station about 500 meters from St. John, and the car bomb targeted the police station. The church was closed and no one was there. The story about the church being attacked was first reported by Al-Sharqiya news channel and picked up by other news agencies. Most of fatalities were in the second explosion in the market, while the targeted police station had only few casualties. There are no known Assyrian casualties.”

According to Pascale Warda, the news of Christian casualties was propagated by those “who are unhappy with any establishment of security in Iraq.”

The Dora neighborhood was formerly a Christian neighborhood, with over 150,000 Assyrians living there. Beginning in 2004 a sustained series of church bombings, kidnappings and killings by Al-Qaeda affiliated groups forced most the residents to flee, most with literally just the clothes they wore, as they were not allowed to take any of their belongings with them (report). Now there are only about 3000 Assyrians remaining in Dora.

73 churches have been attacked or bombed since June, 2004: 45 in Baghdad, 19 in Mosul, 8 in Kirkuk and 1 in Ramadi.

On October 31, 2010 Al-Qaeda terrorists attacked Our Lady of Deliverance Chaldean Catholic Church in Baghdad on Sunday evening during a church service. When police raided the church the terrorists set fire to their explosives, ultimately killing 58 parishioners, including two priests (reports, pictures).

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Chaldean Archbishop Writes Open Letter To Western Christians: In The Face Of Persecution

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Mosul, Iraq –The National Review Online reports that The Chaldean archbishop of the Iraqi city of Mosul, Archbishop Amel Shamon Nona wrote in an open letter to Christians in the West that in the face of religious persecution, they must continue steadfast in the virtue of faith.

Since arriving in his episcopal jurisdiction in Jan., 2010, he knew they would face a critical situation with regard to security. Many Christians had already been killed, many forced to leave the diocese. Brutality took the life of a priest, as well as that of a bishop, his predecessor, Paulos Faraj Rahho, found dead in a shallow grave. Both were murdered in extremely gruesome fashion. The day following Nona arrival, murders of Christians in the city began the next day. Extremists killed, one or two people each day for a period of ten days. Many of the Christians left the city and sought the safety of nearby towns and villages, or in the monasteries. Half have now returned.

 The archbishop wrote,
How can we live our faith in a time of great difficulty? What can we do for those who are persecuted because of their faith? To ask these questions means above all questioning ourselves about the meaning of our faith. In order to be able to speak about the time of persecution, Christians must really know their own faith.
What can we do for these people? What can one do for those who are living the difficult life of persecution?
How can we live our faith in a time of great difficulty? What can we do for those who are persecuted because of their faith? To ask these questions means above all questioning ourselves about the meaning of our faith. In order to be able to speak about the time of persecution, Christians must really know their own faith.
These questions tormented me, forcing me to reflect on the right path to follow so I could fulfill my mission of service. I found the answer in the motto of my episcopate — namely, hope. I came to this conclusion: During a time of crisis and persecution, we must remain full of hope. And so I remained in the city, strengthened in hope, in order to give hope to the many persecuted faithful who likewise continued to live here.
Is this enough? No. To remain with the faithful in hope is a crucial start, but it is not enough — there has to be something more. Saint Paul reminds us that hope is linked to love, and love to faith. To remain with those who are persecuted is to give them a hope founded in love and faith. What can we do to build up this faith? I began to ask myself how our faithful were living out their faith, how they were practicing it in the difficult circumstances of their lives every day. I realized that, above all — in the face of suffering and persecution — a true knowledge of our own faith and the cause of our persecution is of fundamental importance.
By deepening our sense of what it means to be Christians, we discover ways to give meaning to this life of persecution and find the necessary strength to endure it. To know that we may be killed at any moment, at home, in the street, at work, and yet despite all this to retain a living and active faith — this is the true challenge.
From the moment when we are waiting for death, under threat from someone who may shoot us at any time, we need to know how to live well. The greatest challenge in facing death because of our faith is to continue to know this faith in such a way as to live it constantly and fully — even in that very brief moment that separates us from death.
My goal in all this is to reinforce the fact that the Christian faith is not an abstract, rational theory, remote from actual, everyday life but a means of discovering its deepest meaning, its highest expression as revealed by the Incarnation. When the individual discovers this possibility, he or she will be willing to endure absolutely anything and will do everything to safeguard this discovery — even if this means having to die in its cause.
Many people living in freedom from persecution, in countries without problems like ours, ask me what they can do for us, how they can help us in our situation. First of all, anyone who wants to do something for us should make an effort to live out his or her own faith in a more profound manner, embracing the life of faith in daily practice. For us the greatest gift is to know that our situation is helping others to live out their own faith with greater strength, joy, and fidelity.
Strength in daily life; joy in everything we encounter along the path of life; confidence that the Christian faith holds the answer to all the fundamental questions of life, as well as helping us cope with all the relatively minor incidents we confront along our way. This must be the overriding objective for all of us. And to know that there are people in this world who are persecuted because of their faith should be a warning — to you who live in freedom — to become better, stronger Christians, and a spur to demonstrating your own faith as you confront the difficulties of your own society, as well as to the recognition that you too are confronted with a certain degree of persecution because of your faith, even in the West.
Anyone who wishes to respond to this emergency can help those who are persecuted both materially and spiritually. Help bring our situation to the notice of the world — you are our voice. Spiritually, you can help us by making our life and our suffering the stimulus for the promotion of unity among all Christians. The most powerful thing you can do in response to our situation is to rediscover and forge unity — personally and as a community — and to work for the good of your own societies. They are in great need of the witness of Christians who live out their faith with a strength and joy that can give others the courage of faith.

psalm 107-13-14

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