Outside Mar Eliya church, not much had changed since last Christmas: Concrete blocks still surround the building and guards check the IDs of those entering. But inside, hundreds of Iraqi worshipers - Christians and Muslims - were crammed into the overflowing Chaldean Catholic church Tuesday, celebrating the holiday and the fact that they felt safe enough to venture out of their homes to attend Christmas Mass.
"Last year was the year of misery, desperation and sadness," said Samar Jorge Gorges. "But this year is better. So many people attend the Mass and you can see that their praying was joyful."
Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, the patriarch of Iraq's ancient Chaldean Church said Mass, appealing for peace and unity across the war-scarred country.
"Iraq is like a garden and its beauty is the variety of its flowers and scent," Delly said during the service.
Among those attending were several Shiite Muslim sheiks, including Raad Tamimi, who said they had come "in solidarity with our Christian brothers . . . to plant the seed of love again in the new Iraq." Tamimi, a tribal leader, was excited to shake the cardinal's hand and asked that a photo be taken with his cellphone.
Many thanks to MadPriest for the story and the link.
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O God of all peace,
whose child Jesus healed the sick
and walked with the suffering,
we thank you for your Spirit,
present among your people in Iraq.
We beg you
who have kindled the flame of love
in their hearts
to keep them strong
through Christ Jesus, saviour. Amen.