Friday night is Christmas eve, and we have service at 6:30pm. I will leave my house around 5:30 or so for the easy minute ride to the church. Once there, I will unlock the doors, turn on the lights, greet the early birds, and generally fuss around to make sure everything is alright. At some point I will go play on the computer in the office and check Facebook, my blog, and my email. By 6:15 I will be ready to rock and looking forward to a joyous night with thousands of parishioners attending the service. Afterwards, we will have a nativity play on the soleas of the church with Sunday School students, including my lovely older daughter as one of the many little sheep, acting in the roles and doing the readings. No doubt everyone will afterward go home or to friends’ and relatives’ places for further celebration.
Such is Christmas in Worcester, and indeed America, where life is good, despite whatever the latest problem out of Washington or the media is. There is a cultural war on Christmas, but it is something in which we as Christians do not need to take part; a town can remove a creche or erect a “holiday” tree, but it has no effect on my faith and indeed probably makes my practice stronger. This is America, our chosen land which has also chosen to welcome us. It is not the same in many places for Christians, especially those, like me and my fellow Cathedral members, of the eastern persuasion. My friend George posts updates everyday on Facebook about the status of Christians in Iraq, a cradle of Christianity where Christians now live under siege. The following is a message from a bishop about the situation:
Baghdad (AsiaNews) – Midnight Christmas Mass has been cancelled in Baghdad, Mosul and Kirkuk as a consequence of the never-ending assassinations of Christians and the attack against Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cathedral on 31 October, which killed 57 people. For security reasons, churches will not be decorated. Masses will be sombre and held during the day.
A sense of sadness and mourning prevails among Christians. There is much concern for the future of young people. For the past two months, they have been unable to go to university. The same is true for many families that fled north who now must plan a future without any concrete bases.
No one expects anything from the government as far as protecting Christians. Political leaders are too caught up in setting up a new administration.
Security is slightly better in Kirkuk than in the capital, but here too abductions and threats occur. For this reason, we have decided for the first time since the war began not to celebrate Midnight Mass. We shall simply not have any feast, period. Santa Claus will not be coming for the children; there will be no official ceremony with the authorities proffering their best wishes.
For the past six weeks, we have not celebrated Mass because of a lack of security, except late in the morning and Saturday afternoons. For now, we have also stopped teaching the catechism.
We do not have the right to put people’s lives in danger. All our parish churches have security guards, but when worshippers step outside the church and into the street, they become an easy target.
Yet, despite everything, we shall pray for peace this Christmas and help the poor families of Kirkuk and Sulaymaniyah. So far, 106 families have arrived from Baghdad and Mosul.
In my homily, I am going to focus on such problems, on the clashes and on people’s fears but also on the fact that Christmas brings a message of hope. Of course, heaven and earth are two different realities. The Massacre of the Innocents followed Christmas. Thus, for us in Iraq, Christmas is a time of hope and joy as well as pain and martyrdom.
Peace is a goal that people of good will should make happen. If we Christians want to be Christian and welcome Christmas and its message, we must be peacemakers, and build harmony among our Iraqi brothers and sisters.
* Chaldean bishop of Kirkuk