Iraqi Catholics scrap Christmas Eve mass as protests persist

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Kirkuk (Iraq) (AFP)The head of Iraq’s Chaldean Catholic Church said Friday there will be no Christmas Eve masses in Baghdad for security reasons as nearly three months of anti-government protests continue to rock the capital.

“In light of the current sensitive security situation in Baghdad, the patriarchate has decided to cancel Christmas midnight masses at all Baghdad churches,” Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako said in a statement.

But mass will take place on Christmas Day, the cardinal said, “in order to pray for a solution to the crisis… and in memory of the victims, both protesters and security forces”.

Anti-government protests have rocked Baghdad and the Shiite-majority south of Iraq since October 1, with demonstrators calling for an overhaul of a regime they deem corrupt and inefficient.

About 460 people have been killed and 25,000 wounded — most of them protesters — since the demonstrations broke out nearly three months ago.

Earlier this month Sako said the Chaldean Catholic Church would not hold public celebrations for Christmas out of respect for those killed and wounded in the unrest.

“There will be no decorated Christmas trees in the churches or streets, no celebrations and no reception at the patriarchate,” he had said.

Iraq’s Christian minority has dwindled heavily due to years of war, with just a third left out of the 1.5 million Christians living in the country before 2003.

Many of those who remain are in Baghdad or the northern province of Nineveh.

Iraq’s protests forced Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi to quit in November, but the deeply divided parliament has yet to name a successor.

A Thursday deadline for parliament to propose a new premier was pushed back to Sunday.

The leaderless, mostly young protesters are demonstrating against youth unemployment in the oil-rich country and a lack of adequate infrastructure.