Iraq's Christians: Back From The Brink?

Last week on 60 Minutes, Scott Pelley reported on the serious persecution Christians are facing in Iraq.

This weekend, the AP reported on what might be the flip side of that story: a mass celebrated in Baghdad by the newly elevated cardinal, and attended by about 200 people:
Under heavy guard and broadcast live on Iraqi state television, the service was capped by a handshake from a visiting Shiite imam—a symbolic show of unity between Iraq's majority Muslim sect and its tiny Christian community.

Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, leader of the ancient Chaldean Church, celebrated the two-hour Mass three weeks after Pope Benedict XVI elevated him to the top ranks of the Roman Catholic hierarchy.

Delly presided over other services this week in Baghdad and the northern Kurdish city of Irbil, spreading his message of unity and forgiveness among Iraq's Christians.

"We are of one family, everyone should work for the progress of this country," he said during his sermon.

The frequent target of Islamic extremists, Iraq's Christians have been forced to flee by the tens of thousands or to isolate themselves in barricaded neighborhoods if they choose to remain.

"We pray today for the sake of each other and to forgive each other, as well to be directed to do good deeds," Delly said. "That is my demand for the Iraqis, moreover I urge the return home for displaced people and immigrants to their ancestral land."

Delly, 80, has been outspoken in the past about the need to protect Christians, who comprise less than 3 percent of Iraq's 26 million people.

Many people who filled the pews at the elegant brick Church of the Virgin Mary said they were taking advantage of a lull in violence to attend services and to congratulate Delly. The imam of a nearby Shiite mosque shook hands with him in the church's courtyard after the service.

"I came here to show the unity of the Iraqi people," said the black- turbaned imam, Jassim al-Jazairi. "We are happy with the cardinal. We are very proud of any person, whether Christian or Muslim, who raises the name of Iraq in the international arena."

The high attendance at the church in mainly Shiite eastern Baghdad was among several recent signs of normalcy in Iraq. Still, the security situation remains fragile in the city, where many Iraqis are still afraid to venture outside the concrete barriers erected by the U.S. military to protect volatile communities.

In a reminder of the dangers, armed policemen wearing helmets and blue uniforms were stationed on the church's roof and others searched worshippers walking toward the stately brick building on Palestine Street, a major thoroughfare in eastern Baghdad. Several police pickup trucks and Iraqi armored vehicles blocked the street.

Church officials said the weekly afternoon Mass has been more crowded and was extended by an hour as Iraqis are less fearful about being out on the streets late in many areas of the capital.

"We are proud of this," said Hibba Nasser, a 26-year-old housewife. "We came here to this church in order to tell the terrorists that we are not afraid of them."





  • Greg Kandra

Comments

Follow Us

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.

On Twitter