While millions of Christians around the world prepare to celebrate Christmas, a dwindling number of believers in Iraq will be forced to mark the birth of Christ in private, if at all.
Christians are afraid to put up a Christmas tree or other decorations, according to one Christian pastor in Iraq. Such displays of faith in an increasingly extremist nation can bring threats and violence, say human rights groups. Christian churches must be regularly guarded, but congregants are even more on edge during their holiest days.
“There’s a culture of fear that has developed there that makes it hard for people to want to go to church to express their faith, especially at the holiday season,” David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA, told FoxNews.com. “These extremist groups desire religious cleansing and they’re increasing in number particularly in northern Iraq” — once considered a safe haven for Christians.
Iraq, which was once home to more than 1 million Christians, has seen an exodus as persecution has risen, according to Open Doors, a human rights group which monitors treatment of Christians in the Middle East. There are now an estimated 330,000 Christians in Iraq, and the nation ranks No. 4 on Open Doors’ 2013 list of nations considered the worst persecutors of Christians. North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan rank as the top three.
“We’re deeply concerned that Christianity is being squeezed out to extinction maybe in the next decade or so in the Middle East,” Curry said. “Some of these countries, especially Iraq, have environments that are very hostile because of extremists in the region.”
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