Iraqis return home for Easter

568591.jpgHopeful: Archbishop Emil Shimoun Nona says Easter Mass crowds in Mosul, Iraq, were a sign of hope for the survival of Christianity in the region
MOSUL, Iraq ( The Archbishop of Mosul of the Chaldeans reported that a record number of people attended Easter Mass in Mosul, as Christians begin to return after fleeing violent attacks.

Archbishop Emil Shimoun Nona told Aid to the Church in Need that about 1500 people attended the Chaldean rite liturgies in Mosul, which is the highest number of attendants in the past few years.

He noted that this was a sign of “new hope” for the survival of Christianity in those parts, which has been threatened by recent murders and violence against Church members.

Some theories pointed to the March 7 general elections in Iraq as the cause of the increased violence and tension.

Attacks against Christians leading up to the elections caused more than 3500 of the faithful, about 50 per cent of the Church community in that region, to flee to villages in the Nineveh plains.

The aid agency reported that the refugees have started to return home.

“The people clearly feel more confident after the elections,” Archbishop Nona said. “They have faith that things will now improve.”

He noted that it was “too difficult” to predict whether the thousands of Christians who have been fleeing violence in Mosul since 2003 would return. In the past seven years, two-thirds of the Chaldean-rite Catholic community has fled.

For now, however, the archbishop reported that “the Easter celebrations went very well”.

Armed security men guarded the four Mosul churches where the Chaldean Catholic liturgies were held. The services that were normally held in the evening, including the Easter Vigil Mass, were moved to earlier hours before dark in order to reduce the security risk.

“I am really happy about the way it went and it was clear the people felt happy too,” the prelate said.
He said there were “people coming to the church who had not come for two or three years”.

Aid to the Church in Need also received a message from Archbishop Louis Sako, in the northern city of Iraq, describing peaceful Easter celebrations in which Government and Muslim leaders participated.

However, the aid agency noted that further south, in Baghdad, at least five people died and 140 were injured in six explosions.

The agency worked with the Daughters of Mary Immaculate, also known as the Chaldean Sisters, to distribute about 750 Easter hampers of food to Christians and other poor families who have fled their homes.