A week after the worst single disaster to afflict Iraq’s Christians in modern times, the Catholic cathedral in central Baghdad where the killing took place was back in business.
With its windows still smashed and walls scarred and pocked by blasts and bullets, the building had been quickly cleaned up in time for a service at exactly the same hour as the killers struck a week earlier.
As the cathedral was being readied for its first service since the attack, a senior Iraqi cleric in London, Archbishop Athanasios Dawood, called on Iraqi Christians to flee the country because it was so dangerous.
“If we stay, they will kill us,” he told the BBC after addressing a congregation of Iraqi Orthodox Christians at a service in London.
“Which is better, to flee or to stay? To be killed or to be alive? But when I say ‘leave’, my heart is injured inside.”
But in Baghdad itself, both Church leaders and Christian politicians seemed unanimous in urging their communities to stay.
The Syriac Catholic Bishop of Baghdad, Ignatius Metti Metok, says he lost half his normal congregation in last week’s attack on his Cathedral of Our Lady of Deliverance, immediately adjacent to his diocesan headquarters.
“My people say to me, ‘You want us to stay after what’s happened? It could happen again, and who’s going to protect us?'” he said.
“We tell them, the Church is against emigration, we have to stay here, whatever the sacrifices, to bear witness to our faith. But people are human, and we can’t stop them leaving.”
Christian politicians have been infuriated by suggestions that their community should leave, and that Western countries should open their gates to an exodus from Iraq.
“This is our home, we have been together with Muslims for centuries, this is our destiny, and we will stay together,” said Yonadam Kanna, a prominent Christian member of the Iraqi parliament.
“This is almost parallel to what al-Qaeda is doing against us. Al-Qaeda is pushing us out and you are pulling me out. Which is against my interest, against my people, against my country.”
He was particularly angered by what he believed were plans by France to invite 1,000 Iraqi Christians to emigrate there.
“That’s against the interests of the Christians, it incites Muslims against us, and it’s a departure from European values which deal with people as human beings not as Christians or Muslims,” he said….
Offering to protect Christians incites Muslims against them. Got that?