Iraq’s cabinet declared Christmas a national holiday this year for the entire population.
Announcing the news on Twitter December 24, the Iraqi government wrote: “Happy Christmas to our Christian citizens, all Iraqis and to all who are celebrating around the world.”
Before the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, some 1.4 million Christians lived in Iraq. The Christian population has dwindled to an estimated 300,000 after hundreds of thousands fled the country, particularly after ISIS attacked in 2014. Many residents settled in the Kurdish autonomous region or abroad.
The day after Christmas, Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, met Iraqi President Barham Salih in Baghdad, accompanied by Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, the Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq—the largest of the country’s Eastern churches in communion with Rome. According to a statement from the president after the meeting, they discussed the importance of different religions working together to combat extremist ideology “that does not reflect the beliefs and values of our divine messages and social norms.”
Christians have lived in Iraq since the first century and many have vowed to return when security conditions permit.
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