(WASHINGTONPOST) — BAGHDAD — A choir dressed in crimson robes sang ancient hymns below a Christmas star strung with fairy lights at a recent service in the Iraqi capital, the heavy scent of incense hanging in the air. But the season here has a somber edge, and the priest has a serious message for his congregation: Stay.
Just a year ago, an Advent service at St. George’s Chaldean Catholic Church would have drawn 300 to 400 worshipers, says the Rev. Miyassir al-Mokhlasee. But now only around 75 people are scattered across its pews.
Ringed by concrete blast walls and police checkpoints, the church has seen its congregation shrink for the past decade. The instability and violence following the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 have driven many Christians out of the country. The nation’s Christian population has plummeted from more than a million to what community leaders estimate is less than 400,000 today.
Advertisement - story continues below