Iraqi Christians join Christmas worship in France
Iraqi Christians who survived the deadly storming of a Baghdad church attended a special Christmas mass on Sunday in France, where they were evacuated following the attack.
"This mass is held especially for the survivors of the attack of October 31," said Elish Yako, leader of a French association supporting Iraq's Christians, at the mass in the Chaldean Church of Paris.
An estimated 800,000 Christians lived in Iraq before the US-led invasion of 2003 but that number has since shrunk to around 500,000 in the face of repeated attacks against their community and churches.
This Christmas, "in Baghdad all the churches cancelled their midnight masses because of security concerns," Yako added.
"Every time I go into a church I have tears in my eyes. I have forgotten the words to the prayers, even 'Our Father'," said Mariam, 65, one of the survivors of the attack who attended the Paris service.
She came to France on November 8 with her wounded son, one of 36 wounded Iraqi Christians brought to France last month for treatment.
Forty-four worshippers, two priests and seven security personnel died when the Syriac Catholic cathedral was seized by Al-Qaeda gunmen and then stormed by Iraqi and US security forces. Around 60 people were wounded.
"My heart is there, my thoughts are there with the families who stayed, the ones who lost family members," said Mariam.
Yako said at least five of the wounded have returned from France to Iraq and six are still in hospital, while others have applied for asylum. France has said it also plans a second evacuation flight for a further 93 Christians.
© 2010 AFP