Concrete walls up to 10 feet high are being built around churches in Baghdad and Mosul to protect Christmas churchgoers from violence.
The barriers are the Iraqi government’s response to reports of increased threats to churches and other Christian communities ahead of Christmas.
Normally celebrations would involve parties in church halls and parks. But after requests from church leaders, activities in both Baghdad and Mosul are being scaled back to reduce the security threat.
“The sadness of the people is everywhere. Uncertainty is everywhere. The question on everyone’s lips is ‘What’s next?’” Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil told the charity Aid to the Church in Need. “There is a kind of desperation. But whatever happens, the people are determined to celebrate the Christmas liturgy by any means possible.”
Access points to the churches are being controlled by police with scanning equipment.
Archbishop Warda said the barriers and security measures make churchgoers feel as if they are “entering a military camp.” However, he praised the government for taking steps to improve security.
Government officials had asked parish priests if they wanted the security walls. Many clergy approved the plans while others said they felt the actions would just intimidate a Christian community that is already fearful.
In an Oct. 31 massacre at Baghdad’s Syrian Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation, 58 people were killed and more than 70 were injured. At least 2,000 Christians from Mosul and Baghdad have fled because of the violence.
Aid to the Church in Need is distributing emergency aid packages to displaced Christians. It has also arranged aid for the victims of the Oct. 31 massacre and their families.
Archbishop Warda said the aid is being “welcomed with joy.”
“They feel very grateful and they are encouraged by the fact that they are being remembered by others more fortunate than themselves,” he explained.