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Iraq's Christmas Joy Despite Persecution
By Mahak Verma
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Christmas brings a "glimmer of hope and joy" to Christian families "terrorised" and driven out of their homes by ISIS in Iraq, according to Archbishop Eamon Martin.

Speaking at a carol service in Armagh, Archbishop Martin told the congregation about his visit to Batnaya on the Ninevah Plains last week, and how he was brought to tears by the wanton destruction of homes and the desecration and vandalism of Christian buildings and symbols.

"In one town, Batnaya, the scale of destruction brought tears to my eyes. Family homes are burned and looted, shops and businesses lie ruined; church and convent buildings have been destroyed and daubed with hateful graffiti," he said.

"Even the town's graveyard is desecrated -- crosses and gravestones smashed to pieces. How could anyone do this? How will these families ever piece back together their lives and possessions?"

Archbishop Martin said the suffering of Christians around the world "often goes unnoticed" as people go about their Christmas shopping and festive preparations.

Many Christians are attempting to move back to their homes after ISIS wreaked havoc when they seized control of the region in 2014 and declared an Islamic caliphate. They began persecuting Christians, marking their houses and forcing them to pay a tax or convert -- this was enforced brutally.

Some people are still too afraid to return to their towns and villages and many are leaving for Europe, according to Dr Martin, who added that there are still people with a strong Faith who remain.

The archbishop said he met a priest and parish workers in the town of Telescof who were putting up a Christmas tree and a crib in the Church compound.

He said: "900 homes in the parish have been reconstructed with the help of foreign aid, but more-so because of the courage and determination of a people who walk by hope and by the light of Christ, the Prince of Peace."

"The Church in northern Iraq has been working tirelessly on the ground. We met with Archbishop Bashar Warda in Erbil -- a Redemptorist who learned English in Dundalk. He explained that their immediate response to the crisis was to set up refugee camps on the church grounds to provide shelter, food and clothing for the displaced families." 
Travelling with Trócaire, Dr Martin said Christians in Iraq are assisted by the Church-charity who helped them establish a healthcare clinic and school places for young people.

"I would encourage people in Ireland to support Trócaire's Christmas Appeal. Even small donations can make a big difference to people whose lives have been shattered by conflict," Dr Martin added.

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