'Eggs and joy'

Christians enjoy Easter Sunday celebrations throughout Iraq

BASRA — The Virgin Mary Cathedral in the Al-Ashar district of Basra was filled with Christians gathered to celebrate Easter. The celebration began with prayers and hymns, with priests delivering inspirational chants in the presence of clergy and nuns from abroad.

Rita Riyadh, a Basra local, expressed her enthusiasm for the occasion to 964media, describing it as a special time of love and forgiveness celebrated within the community. “We distribute eggs and joy, participating in both the evening and daytime Masses. The atmosphere in Basra is improving, and the longstanding peaceful coexistence remains in this city,” Riyadh said.

The church has been recently restored but faces a dwindling local Christian population both in Basra and wider Iraq.

Sister Mariam, visiting from Lebanon, emphasized the significance of the day. “Today, as we celebrate in Basra and beyond, is among the most significant feasts. Christ suffered for us and took on our nature in life, teaching us that our ultimate destiny lies in the heavenly kingdom.”

Aram Sabah, a Christian cleric, discussed with 964media the enduring spirit of Basra’s residents amid political events and demographic changes. “Despite our struggles and the occasional lack of acceptance for diversity, we strive to break this culture and live as our ancestors did, celebrating together during New Year’s, Easter, Eid al-Fitr, and Eid al-Adha. The feasts are a divine blessing.”

During the Easter Mass sermon in Hamdaniyah, Nineveh, Father Estephanos Al-Kateb, pastor of the Church of Behnam and his sister Sarah, addressed the current conditions faced by the Iraqi people, particularly the Christian community. In a fervent speech, he drew parallels between the biblical story of Cain and Abel and today’s greed and selfishness, lamenting the division and discord sown among the country’s citizens.

Father Al-Kateb lamented the extent to which individuals justify wrongful acts with baseless excuses, driven by hatred, greed, and envy. He highlighted global issues such as famine, violations of human rights by authorities, political conflicts exhausting the nation, persecutions driving people from their homeland, embezzlements penetrating institutions, and the poor dying of hunger or surviving on others’ leftovers due to poor leadership.

He criticized the wealthy for never being satisfied with ill-gotten gains and continually seizing land out of greed, while international conflicts over the years have led to destruction, enslavement, murder, and exploitation.

Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid participated in the Easter Mass at St. Joseph’s Cathedral.

In his address, he extended Easter greetings to the Christian community, wishing them and their families “peace, goodness, and love.”

Highlighting the challenging times the Iraqi people have faced, including oppressive regimes, terrorism, and crimes, the President called for national cohesion and unity based on the values of love, justice, and equality.

The celebrations come amid the backdrop of President Rashid’s decision to revoke a decree from 2013 that had recognized Cardinal Sako as the patriarch of the Chaldean Church, sparked significant concern and unrest among Christians in Iraq and beyond.

Cardinal Sako, known for his vocal advocacy for the rights and safety of Christians in Iraq, announced his withdrawal from the patriarchal seat in Baghdad, moving to the Kurdistan Region.

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