By John Pontifex
A CURFEW failed to deter Christians in Mosul who walked for up to an hour to attend a packed Good Friday service in one of Iraqâ€™s most dangerous cities.
Archbishop Amil Nona of Mosul presided at the liturgy at St Paulâ€™s Chaldean Church which people reached on foot after a curfew on cars and other traffic was imposed amid continuing security alerts.
But a full curfew the day before meant that the Maundy Thursday Mass was cancelled and in common with previous years the Easter Vigil service had to be scrapped because of safety fears after dark.
Reporting on these developments in Mosul, Archbishop Bashar Warda from the neighbouring Erbil diocese told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need that Christians in the city were determined to go ahead with Holy Week and Easter celebrations as much as possible.
(Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, northern Iraq)
Archbishop Warda said: â€œPeople in Mosul really encouraged Archbishop Amil by their willingness to particiapte in the service on Good Friday in Mosul. â€œThe service is always very uplifting and special in the life of the community.â€
Mosul, which is in north-west Iraq, has witnessed some of the countryâ€™s worst persecution against Christians, with random kidnappings, murders and repeated efforts by militants to scare the faithful into a mass exodus from the city.
Archbishop Wardaâ€™s comments come amid reports of violence close to churches in Baghdad over Easter.
On Easter Sunday (24th April), parishioners reportedly had a near miss when they were evacuated from the capitalâ€™s Sacred Heart Catholic Church just before an explosive went off.
Nearby, faithful huddled inside the nearby Mary the Virgin Catholic Church, while outside four police officers were injured in a firefight with gunmen.
But in another sign of the faithfulâ€™s defiance, Church leaders at Baghdadâ€™s Our Lady of Salvation Syrian Catholic Cathedral reported that so many people came for Easter Day Mass, servies were upped from one to three.
The cathedral was the scene of a siege during Sunday Mass on 31st October when 58 people were killed â€“ including two priests â€“ and more than 70 were injured.
Archbishop Warda said that in his Easter Message he had appealed to rival political factions to seek â€œreconciliationâ€ with the help of the Church.
In his interview with ACN, which as a charity for persecuted and other suffering Christians is prioritising help for the Church in the Middle East, Archbishop Warda said: â€œThe people are still suffering very much because of the instability.
â€œWe offer a prayer and willingness to help with the process towards reconciliation and cooperation.
â€œThe Church was born through Godâ€™s willingness to seek reconcilation with man through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and so you could say we are experts in the field of reconciliation and we may be able to help.â€
The archbishop stressed the continuing political uncertainty and spoke of how politicians were acting â€œin accordance with political interest rather than for the common goodâ€.
The continuing violence against Christians and political uncertainty is being blamed for the widespread emigration of faithful from Iraq.
Christians have plummeted from nearly a million to less than 200,000 within a decade.
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity â€“ helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiativeâ€™s launch in 1979, Aid to the Church in Needâ€™s Childâ€™s Bible â€“ God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 162 languages and 48 million copies have been distributed all over the world.
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