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Iraqi Christians mark a restrained Easter

With violence still a threat, Iraqi Christians observed Easter from behind blast walls that have turned many churches into fortresses, or at home. At St. Joseph's in Baghdad, Monsignor Casha planned to urge parishioners to stay in Iraq and try to rebuild.

Iraqi Christians are searched as they queue up to attend Easter services at Virgin Mary Chaldean Church in Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday.

Khalid Mohammed/AP

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Iraqi Christians marked a restrained Easter weekend as fear of attacks kept many from openly celebrating their most sacred day of the year and church officials urged them not to give up on the country.

At Our Lady of Salvation, where gunmen and suicide bombers killed at least 52 worshipers and guards in October, the church was tightly locked. Only the arch and cross on the church roof were visible behind the 10-foot high concrete walls that have turned most churches in Baghdad into miniature fortresses.

“Our churches have become like prisons,” says Monsignor Pious Casha, a senior religious official who arrived at Our Lady of Salvation moments after Iraqi special forces stormed the church during the siege last fall. “The barbed wire and concrete are new. Yes, they protect the churches, but they make the worshipers spiritually constrained.”

Iraqi police guarding Our Lady of Salvation said the doors would be opened only moments before the Saturday evening mass. “It’s more like a museum than a church,” said one of the police officers. He said they tried to keep out those who were simply curious or, he implied, there to gather intelligence.

Christians hit especially hard by violence


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