For almost three months Iraq has been the scene of massive protests. Anti-government protestors took to the streets to demand an end to corruption, foreign influence, better social services and demand jobs and economic and political reforms. Dramatic and hard actions by the Iraqi police and Shia militia cost the lives of more than five hundred mostly young protestors.
In solidarity with the protesters, the Chaldean Catholic Church of Babylon decided earlier this month to cancel all public Christmas celebrations out of respect for the deaths of the protestors. The decision by the Chaldean Church shows that the protests are widespread and transcend religious denomination and sectarian affiliation. By siding with the protestors, the Chaldean Church in fact sends a message to the Iraqi government, to the region and to the world: “we the Christians of Iraq have lost faith in the ruling Iraqi establishment and political system. Listen to the protesters!”
Syriac Christians belonging to Chaldean Church, the Syriac Orthodox Church and the Assyrian Church of the East have left Iraq by the hundreds of thousands since the US-led coalition toppled dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003. Estimates are that 250-300 thousand Iraqi Christians are left of the approximately 1.5 million in 2003. In a December 7 appeal posted on its website, the Chaldean patriarch Louis Rafael Sako calls for more Christian relief and help for the Christian towns of the Nineveh Plain in northern Iraq,
“I would like to thank all the social institutions and organizations concerned with helping Churches, as well as the non-governmental bodies (NGOs) that have energetically contributed to the return of Christians in this region, which is the Historical cradle of Christians.
Whether we are descended from the mountains of northern Iraq, or residents of Baghdad or even Basrah, each of us, as an Iraqi Christian, feels that Nineveh Plain is part of his/her being.
It is still so painful to remember the ISIS “jihadist” attack in 2014 forcing Christians to leave their home, followed by looting and destruction of houses, Churches, Schools etc. …
Today, after two years of its liberation from ISIS, the Nineveh Plain area still needs the help of our brothers and sisters who can pray and give us a hand. Therefore, I am addressing this appeal to all NGOs; social institutions; Churches, and governments: We need your help so that all the people of the Nineveh Plain remain in their homes, and those who have been displaced outside the region can return to it. Knowing that ISIS defeat from the region does not mean that there is no need to help its inhabitants anymore.”
Christmas in Lebanon this year will not be what it used to be. Christmas normally brings many Lebanese from all over the world back for celebrations and family visits. This year visits have decreased drastically because of the tense situation.
As in Iraq, so in Lebanon. Lebanon is suffering one of its worst political and economic crises and mass protests si
nce its establishment. As in Iraq, so in Lebanon have anti-government protestors taken the streets in protest and demand an end to corruption, foreign influence, good social services, jobs and economic and political reforms. The difference with Iraq however is that the government reaction to the mass protests is much less violent.
In his 22 December Sunday Mass sermon, as published on the patriarchal website, the patriarch of the Syriac Maronite Church of Antioch Bechara al-Raï denounced the politicians who,
“brought the country on the brink of economic, financial and social collapse. They did so because they neglected the voice of God in their consciences and did not pay any attention to His words. Rather, they listened to only one voice, the voice of their own interests and illegal profits.
The time has come for the ruling politicians to contemplate on the demands of the revolutionary, positive and civilized people who are protesting without stones: “If you would have had solutions to give, you would have ruled the country for years. If the people had confidence in you and your administration, they would not, for seventy days, have filled the streets and squares, calling for responsible government free of party politics and with personalities of competence, efficiency and uncorrupted.”
Patriarch al-Raï urged all political parties to work together with the Prime Minister and show real leadership in the facilitation of an emergency government to stop the piling up of public debt and government deficit and to really enact economic and political reforms.
In Syria the Syriac Orthodox patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II, on 20 December, inaugurated the Christmas Tree at the Abbasiyyin Square in Damascus in the attendance of thousands of spectators. According to the patriarchal website the patriarch pointed to the suffering the Syrian people had to undergo and of which this very square was witness. Having passed the most difficult times of the war, Aphrem II called the square “the square of life” because it rose out of the ashes to become today a place of gathering, uniting the Syrian people irrespective of religion. The event at Abbasiyyin Square was animated by a beautiful performance of the famous Syrian Syriac singer Abeer Nehmeh who chanted and sang hymns and carols in Syriac and Arabic.
In his official Christmas message published on December 22nd, the Syriac Orthodox patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II, denounced today’s world full of fear and anxiety;
“Truth is resisted, honesty and faithfulness are attacked, man is drawn to perish, seduced by irresistible temptations and by sin that is presented to him disguised in virtue or freedom. How dark is our world where injustice, evil, atheism and death are spreading. Let us thus seize this opportunity and contemplate the mysteries of the nativity, where we will encounter the humility of the Lord Who “emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.” (Philippians 2:7).
In his Christmas message the Aphrem II drew attention to the suffering Middle East because of wars, destruction and the deteriorating economic situation which are affecting people’s daily lives. In His prayers to Christ, the King of peace, the patriarch asks Him to shine His light amid darkness and let His peace reign in our countries so that stability and security may return to our homelands.
Patriarch Aphrem II also made a renewed call upon all decisionmakers and people of good will to do all they can for the safe return of the two abducted archbishops of Aleppo, Boulos Yaziji and Gregorius Youhanna Ibrahim.