April 24, 2011 / 2:30 PM / 7 years ago

Iraqi Christians resilient on Easter

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Raad’s eyes well up with tears as he remembers his cousin and friends who were among 52 people killed in an assault on a cathedral in Baghdad last October.

The Iraqi Christian man, who has a shop near the Our Lady of Salvation Catholic cathedral in central Baghdad, said services held at the church for Easter showed the resilience of Iraq’s minority Christian community.

“(On Good Friday), there were candles everywhere and all the people in the church were crying. Whenever I enter the church, I cry because I remember my friends and my cousin, a priest, who was killed in the attack,” said Raad.

“I can’t forget those moments I lived through. I lost about 30 of my friends in the attack.”

Security has been tightened around churches since the October attack but violence continues. At least four people were wounded on Sunday when a roadside bomb exploded near an entrance to the Sacred Heart church in central Baghdad.

Almost six months ago, militants laid siege to the cathedral during Sunday mass in a brutal attack which killed 52 people and ended when security forces stormed the cathedral.

It was the bloodiest attack against Iraq’s Christians since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and it struck fear in the Christian community.

Women pray during Easter mass at the Sacred Heart Catholic church in Baghdad April 24, 2011. REUTERS/Saad Shalash

The United Nations has said hundreds of Christian families have since fled to Iraq’s northern Kurdish area or nearby countries.

INCREASED SECURITY

Iraq’s Christians once numbered about 1.5 million but are now believed to have dropped to fewer than 850,000 out of a population of around 30 million.

A priest leads the Easter mass at the Sacred Heart Catholic church in Baghdad April 24, 2011. REUTERS/Saad Shalash

They have been frequently targeted in Iraq, where sectarian divisions also remain amongst Sunnis and Shi‘ites eight years after the U.S.-led invasion.

Both Our Lady of Salvation and Sacred Heart are surrounded by blast walls and security forces guard the entrances.

Earlier on Sunday, hundreds of Iraqi Christians gathering for prayers at the Sacred Heart church were frisked before being allowed to enter.

Although some churchgoers said they were fearful of further attacks against their community, many said they had been determined to pray on Easter Sunday, which marks the resurrection of Christ after his crucifixion.

“We wish to live in peace and harmony with all other religions in Iraq. We came to church to say we are not afraid of the terrorists and we will defend ourselves against terror,” said churchgoer Ayda Shabo, who attended the service at Sacred Heart.

Christian denominations in Iraq include Chaldeans, Copts, Roman and Melkite Catholics, Maronites and Greek Orthodox.

Additional reporting by Muhanad Mohammed, Ahmed Rasheed and Saif Tawfeeq; Editing by Maria Golovnina

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