December 25, 2014
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For Christians in Iraq, there have been happier Christmases.
After one of their darkest years in memory, these devotees gather in a Baghdad church -- many having fled their own towns after they fell to Islamic State.
Economic expert, Bassim Jameel Antwan: "Despite the fact that we have been exposed to various kinds of oppression and have been chased and hunted, we will stay here because it is our homeland. We hope that Jesus the Christ will bestow patience and consolation onto all displaced Iraqis and give them hope of returning to their homes."
But the current population is about a third what it was at its peak and a little over half what it was five years ago as more and more choose to move abroad.
Christian woman from Baghdad, Lana Hazim: "This feast differs from previous ones in that the number of people attending is getting smaller. In previous years, the church used to be full of people to the extent that we needed to bring in more chairs. This year the number is less, however, we thank God that there are still Christians here."
In Arbil, a somber mood in this era of rising sectarian strife, where Christians feel their very survival is threatened.
Father Amanaweel Adel: "The Christian devotee today is missing everything. He is left without a shelter, without home and without all the basic necessities for a decent life. Therefore, he will definitely receive the feast with a pale joy, if we can describe it in this way, or in other worlds a joy overshadowed by sadness. We pray to our Lord to make the coming year a year of peace and restore things back to its natural course and and get the displaced back to their homes."
For now, their best hope is to keep their traditions alive long enough to thrive again.