Iraqi Christians attend Christmas mass at the Virgin Mary church on December 25, 2008 in Baghdad, Iraq (Getty Images) Asia News:
Diocese remembers 409 AD in which hundreds of Christians people were beheaded for their faith and the continued history of Iraqi Christian Martyrs.
For 1600 years, Iraq has been "a country of martyrs", which finds in the “Holy Spirit and the Eucharist" the strength to bear witness to the faith “despite persecution”.
So says Mgr. Louis Sako, archbishop of Kirkuk, on the eve of a week of celebrations to mark 1600 years since the massacre of Iraqi martyrs. A long series of past and present violence, but one which has not stopped "the sacred history of the Christians ... and their journey."
In 409 AD hundreds of Christians were beheaded for their faith. "Among them - said Msgr. Sako - a widow named Scirin-Miskenta, with two children, and general Tahmazgerd, who carried out the decree of the king, who ordered the massacre.
"Seeing their faith, serenity and the trust of the widow" -continued the prelate - "Tahmzgerd converted to Christianity" and as a result was "beheaded later." Around 470, in order to commemorate the massacre of Christians, the bishop of Kirkuk Maruta "built a sanctuary” on the hill where "the martyrs were buried”.
The "Red Church", as it is called,is now "the graveyard of the Chaldeans"; the relics of martyrs, custodied on the main altar, have always been a destination for the processions of the faithful.
To celebrate the anniversary of the martyrdom, the diocese has organized a series of events: on Wednesday, a day of fasting for peace; Thursday, hymns of the martyrs and a conference at the recently restored Sanctuary; on Friday Mass will be celebrated; on Saturday a play, staged by the choir of the cathedral and the church of St. Joseph. Under the slogan "true to our fathers in faith," Christians in Kirkuk want to "bear witness to the faith, love, trust and openness."
The history of violence and persecution against Christians has continued uninterrupted. Abductions, kidnappings, assassinations, fleeing families are the dramatic testimony of a "chain of martyrs - underlines Msgr. Sako - that continues.
"Our country is dotted with shrines to martyrs that people constantly visit, it is a spirituality of martyrdom". Christians find the strength to "remain faithful" in the "Holy Spirit, but also in the liturgy, especially the Eucharist."
"In every Mass" - added the archbishop of Kirkuk – "we are called upon to make the sacrifice of Christ in our life, in his words; take, break, give ... Do this in memory of me: this is the sacred history of Christians and ... their journey”.