Iraqi Christians make Lourdes pilgrimage

Iraqi Christians who were wounded in a deadly attack on their church in Baghdad last year made a pilgrimage to the renowned Catholic shrine at Lourdes in France on Friday.

About 40 Iraqis, including the wounded and their relatives, visited the southwestern town where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared and performed miracles in a cave that is now a site of pilgrimage for millions of Christians.

The Iraqis, who were brought to France last month for the wounded to be treated after the October attack, wept and recited prayers as a French priest held a service in an underground chapel, before they visited the cave nearby.

Forty-four worshippers, two priests and seven security personnel died when the Syriac Catholic cathedral in Baghdad was seized by Al-Qaeda gunmen and then stormed by Iraqi and US security forces. Around 60 people were wounded.

“We came to pray to the Holy Virgin, who is our mother. We keep the hope that she can heal us and give us peace, in Iraq and everywhere,” said Raphael Kutaimi, rector of the Baghdad cathedral and sole survivor among the clergy who were officiating.

“We ask for peace so that all Christians can live in peace with Muslims.”

An estimated 800,000 Christians lived in Iraq before the US-led invasion of 2003 but the community says that number has since shrunk to around 500,000 in the face of repeated attacks against their community and churches.