Iraq's Christians Mark Good Friday

Members of Iraq's Christian minority visited churches in Baghdad and across the country to mark Good Friday. Under Saddam Hussein, Christians enjoyed a degree of protection. Now many are fleeing Iraq because of the continuing violence.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

And we have two Easter week items for you this Good Friday. In just a minute, we'll chat with a Boston pastor who's using some high-tech tools to craft his Sunday sermons. But first, we're going to spend a few minutes in Baghdad, where members of the city's small Christian community went to Good Friday services today.

Here's NPR's Jamie Tarabay.

JAMIE TARABAY reporting:

At the Church of the Sacred Heart in Baghdad's Karata (ph) district, men, women and children filed in silently. All were dressed in black and the statues of saints were draped in black cloth. Little girls took delicate white veils from a plastic basket to cover their long, black braids before going to sit down.

Seated under a window at the back of the church fanning herself is a plump woman called Gilan Istanda (ph). She came to the service with her two daughters. Fiddling with her rosary beads, Gilan says she would have come no matter the danger.

Ms. GILAN ISTANDA (Resident): (Through translator) We're in God's hands, no matter what. Whatever happens, you can't prevent it. You just have to believe in God.

TARABAY: Many Iraqi Christians have left the country over the past three years. They enjoyed a certain degree of protection under Saddam Hussein. They owned liquor stores and restaurants, but after the fall of the former regime, Islamist militants began targeting Christians, blowing up their shops and in the summer of 2004, several Iraqi churches were bombed.

The priest at Sacred Heart preached tolerance and steadfastness on this Good Friday. At a nearby singing mosque in Baghdad, the Imam shied away from political talk. He concentrated instead on venerating prophet Mohammed. His birthday was celebrated earlier this week. At a Shiite mosque, the cleric railed against recent attacks on mosques, blaming religious extremists and accusing the U.S.-led occupation of allowing the attacks to happen.

Amid the sectarian violence here attends that mosques on Fridays is dwindling. Just this week, dozens were killed when both Sunni and Shiite mosques were bombed.

Jamie Tarabay, NPR News, Baghdad.

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