THE Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and other church leaders
took the opportunity of the celebration of Christmas to pledge
support for the oppressed Christian communities in the Middle
On Christmas Day itself, Iraq experienced one of the worst
atrocities aimed at the country's Christian minority, when at least
34 people were killed in bombings in Baghdad. Many thousands of
Syrian Christians, meanwhile, are among the millions of civilians
displaced by the war in their country.
In his Christmas Day sermon in Canterbury Cathedral, Archbishop
Welby said that, while Christians were singing about Bethlehem, "we
see injustices in Palestine and Israel, where land is taken or
rockets are fired, and the innocent suffer. We see injustice in the
ever more seriously threatened Christian communities of the Middle
East. The Prince of Wales highlighted their plight last week."
The Archbishop also referred to the killings that day in Iraq,
"where there have been Christians since the first century", and
where "more people testified to their faith with their lives.
Christians in the region are attacked and massacred, driven into
exile from an area in which their presence has always been central,
undoubted, essential, richly contributing, faithful."
He then turned to South Sudan, "where political ambitions have
led towards ethnic conflict. On Saturday, I was speaking to a
Bishop under siege, in a compound full of the dying. God's
passionate love for the vulnerable is found in the baby in a manger
in a country at war. If that was his home; today it must be our
On St Stephen's Day, Pope Francis appealed for spiritual help
for "Christians who suffer violence, discrimination, and all manner
of injustice because of their faithfulness to Christ and his
gospel". Referring to the bombings in Baghdad, he said: "We are
close to those brothers and sisters who, like St Stephen, are
unjustly accused and subjected to violence of various kinds. This
happens especially where religious freedom is still not guaranteed
or not fully realised."
The Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Revd Vincent Nichols,
preaching at midnight mass in Westminster Cathedral, asked
worshippers to give "a special thought and prayer" to Christians
around the world who suffer for their faith. He said: "Christians
are the most widely persecuted religious group in the world today,
and this evening we think especially of the Middle East, especially
of Egypt, Iraq, and Syria."
The first bomb-blast in Baghdad on Christmas Day was in a market
in a Christian district of the Doura neighbourhood. At least ten
people were killed. Shortly afterwards, a car bomb exploded close
to St John's RC Church as worshippers were leaving. Police said
that 24 people were killed, and many more injured. Reuters quoted
one policeman at the scene as saying that "a car parked near the
church exploded when the families were hugging each other goodbye
before leaving. The blast was powerful. Bodies of women, girls, and
men were lying on the ground covered in blood. Others were
screaming and crying while they were trying to save some of their
In Egypt, security measures are being increased around churches
before the Coptic Christmas celebrations on 7 January, amid
unsubstantiated rumours that Islamists plan to attack Christian
targets. Copts have often accused the Egyptian authorities of
failing to provide adequate protection.