Christmas in the Arab World: Hope in Iraq but little stability in Lebanon

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villaggio_cristiano01-200×1501.jpg Beirut, 21 Dec. (AKI) – As Christmas approaches, Lebanese church leaders believe Christians are facing great challenges. They say religious divisions between Christian, Shia and Sunnis are becoming more entrenched and many Christians have begun leaving Beirut.

Father Antoine Khadra, president of the Association of Christian Lebanese Journalists and head of the Convent of Saint Nohra, said he hopes that Christmas brings stability to the country.

“The Lebanese are not doing well, ” he said in an interview with Adnkronos International (AKI). “To live in peace you need stability. For us, as the church, it is not easy to enourage people to celebrate.

“Spirituality is important, but we also need stability to live.”

He said many schools and communities had cancelled their festivities and the economic situation was also difficult since everything had become very expensive.

Missionary Dany al-Hayek from the Salesian Don Bosco House in El Hossun, in the country’s north, said “we don’t feel much about Christmas this year”.

Christian leaders say last week’s fatal attack on General Francois al-Hajj, a Maronite Christian, not only shocked the country but was a serious setback to attempts to elect a new president after Emile Lahoud stood down on 23 November.

The country has been undergoing its worst political crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.

Monsignor Hanna Alwan, rector from the Maronite College of Rome, told AKI that the Lebanese were looking for peace because concern about the presidential vote and a weak economy had created a malaise in the country.

“We don’t know what kind of future awaits Lebanon, like what will happen with the presidential elections,” he told AKI. “There is neither peace nor serenity for the holidays.”

Meanwhile many Christian and Muslim Lebanese are said to be fleeing the country, seeking work and stability abroad in the Persian Gulf, in the US and Europe.

“The Christian community is diminishing,” said Hayek. “Christians have aspirations, they want to live well. They want to guarantee a better life for their children, while Muslims have a degree of tolerance for the greater difficulties.”

In Iraq, Christian leaders are more positive about the future. The patriarchal vicar of the Chaldean Christian church in Iraq and the world, Shlemon Warduni, has called on Christians and Muslims to welcome the new year with open arms and hearts filled with love.

In an interview with AKI, Warduni said people won’t be taking part in popular festivities in churches and Christian communites as they did in the past, but in their homes with relatives and friends.

Meanwhile, the bishop of the Chaldean Christian church in Mosul, Bulos Faraj Rahou, said he was more optimistic than in the past, saying security in the city had recently improved with the deployment of more police.

“The country is heading towards a period of celebrations to coincide with Christmas, New Year and the Festival of the Sacrifice. As a result, the whole country is on holiday,” he told AKI.

In Jordan, the secretary-general of the Latin diocese of Amman, Hanna Kaldani, stressed the need for religious dialogue between Muslims and Christians to improve human rights, dignity and freedom.

“Christians and Muslims can find common agreement on diverse issues,” Kaldani told AKI.

A member of Jordan’s Islamic-Christian committee and consultant to the Pontifical council for interreligious dialogue in Rome, Kardani said the greatest threat was the “extremely negative” influence of extreme religious ideology.

In Syria, the patriarchal vicar of the Greek Orthodox Church, Ghattas Hazim, said peace and stability were missing from the Arab world.

He told Adnkronos International (AKI) he hoped the new year would bring peace and well-being in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and the Sudan, but above all in Palestine where there is a great need for it.