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Christian areas hit by Baghdad bombs on Christmas

baghdad today

People stand among debris at the site of a bomb attack at a marketplace in Baghdad’s Doura District December 25, 2013.  The bomb attack came as Christians celebrated Christmas in churches across Iraq

Two bombs in Christian areas of the Iraqi capital Baghdad have killed at least 35 people, officials have said. One device exploded near a Catholic church when worshippers were leaving a Christmas Day service, killing 24. Another bomb ripped through a market, killing 11 more people.  Christian leaders denied that the attacks had targeted worshipers.

Iraq’s ancient Christian community has more than halved in recent years, from an estimated population of 900,000.  Both blasts happened in the Doura area of Baghdad.  The bomb outside St John’s Catholic church exploded in a parked car, shortly after a blast at an outdoor market in the mainly Christian al-Athorien district.

No one has yet admitted carrying out the attacks, which came as Christmas Day services were held across Iraq.

A surge in sectarian violence this year has claimed the lives of more than 7,000 civilians in Iraq, the highest annual number of fatalities since 2008.  The conflict in Syria has also prompted a spike in attacks, many involving al-Qaeda in Iraq.  Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told the BBC on Sunday that the Syrian crisis was “feeding terrorism in the region”.

Iraq civilian deaths since 2008

iraq_civilian_deaths_624_v6

Our Troops Celebrate Christmas in the War Zone:

Afghanistan

Christmas decorations are seen outside a Church, as a U.S. army soldier with the NATO- led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) walks the Church on Christmas eve at the U.S.-led coalition base in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Dec. 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Musadeq Sadeq)

Afghanistan

(Excerpted) 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.

Iraq, which was once home to more than 1 million Christians, has seen an exodus as persecution has risen (and)…There are now an estimated 330,000 Christians in Iraq….making it the fourth most persecuting country, while 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.”

….Last week, Archbishop of Baghdad Louis Raphael I Sako told a conference in Rome that the West must help stem the “mortal exodus” of Christians from the Middle East.

A fraction of the 1.2 million Christians who lived and worshipped in Iraq in 1987 remain, Sako said, adding that the “numbers continue dropping.”   The United Nations Committee for Refugees recently stated that 850,000 Iraqi Christians have left since 2003.

IRAQ_-_natale_festaChildren in War Zone

Ghosts of Christmas past: Why were the Victorians so ghastly good at ghost stories?

By Kira Cochrane, The Guardian
Monday, December 23, 2013 7:50 EST
victorian ghost and train via Shutterstock

Christmas Eve was traditionally the time to tell scary stories round the hearth. And 19th-century writers proved fearsomely adept

Curl up by the fire and I’ll tell you a ghost story. Don’t be alarmed by the creak of the floorboards, the murmurs in the basement, the shrill ululations of a distant dog. Try not to be perturbed by the flickering candle, the fleeting shadows, the horned, hairy hand that appears at your elbow. Something moved? There’s a face in the brickwork? A murderer, long ago, was buried in the cellar? Stay calm. Breathe deeply. The ghosts of Christmases past are gathering.

It was the Victorian era, of course, when ghosts proliferated most obviously in fiction – as well as on stage, in photographs and in drawing room seances. Before the start of Victoria’s reign in 1837, the health of the genre was thought to be failing. But by 1887, when Mary Louise Molesworth wrote The Story of the Rippling Train, her character Mrs Snowdon was bemoaning ghosts’ prevalence. “One hears nothing else nowadays,” she said, and in the pages that followed, she would hear yet another, about the phantom of a beautiful woman who had appeared after being terribly burnt in a fire.

What had raised all these apparitions from the dead? The most straightforward explanation is the rise of the periodical press, says Ruth Robbins, professor of English literature at Leeds Metropolitan University. Ghost stories had traditionally been an oral form, but publishers suddenly needed a mass of content, and  ghost stories fitted the bill – short, cheap, generic, repetitive, able to be cut quite easily to length.

Ever one to spot a commercial opportunity, she says, Charles Dickens produced his own highly successful ghost story, A Christmas Carol, in serial form just before Christmas 1843. This was the same year the first commercially produced Christmas card was sent, and Dickens’s story both reflected and influenced a growing trend for marking Christmas with secular celebrations. Dr Andrew Smith, author of The Ghost Story 1840-1920, says: “People like Dickens wanted to revive some notion of community invested within that idea of Christmas. What’s interesting about his version of Christmas is that it’s not particularly Christian. It’s about the family, helping the poor, a moment where you might pause and reflect on your life.” It’s about Ebenezer Scrooge realising, through the counsel of ghosts, that he must embrace his family, look after his good-natured clerk, and become the embodiment of generosity.

Christmas has long been associated with ghosts, says Roger Clarke, author of A Natural History of Ghosts: 500 Years of Hunting for Proof. Just before Christmas 1642, for instance, shepherds were said to have seen ghostly civil war soldiers battling in the skies. This connection continued in the Victorian era through Dickens’s story, and through the ghost stories he later published at Christmas in his periodical All the Year Round, with contributors including Wilkie Collins and Elizabeth Gaskell. It would also continue in the tradition started by MR James, the provost of King’s College, Cambridge, who would invite a select few students and friends to his rooms each year on Christmas Eve, where he’d read one of the ghost stories he had written, which are still popular today. They include Canon Alberic’s Scrap-Book (1895), in which an ancient holy book brings forth a demonic presence, first announced by a hand covered in “coarse black hairs, longer than ever grew on a human hand; nails rising from the ends of the fingers and curving sharply down and forward, grey, horny and wrinkled”.

The popularity of ghost stories was strongly related to economic changes. The industrial revolution had led people to migrate from rural villages into towns and cities, and created a new middle class. They moved into houses that often had servants, says Clarke, many taken on around October or November, when the nights were drawing in early – and new staff found themselves “in a completely foreign house, seeing things everywhere, jumping at every creak”. Robbins says servants were “expected to be seen and not heard – actually, probably not even seen, to be honest. If you go to a stately home like Harewood House, you see the concealed doorways and servant’s corridors. You would actually have people popping in and out without you really knowing they were there, which could be quite a freaky experience. You’ve got these ghostly figures who actually inhabit the house.”

Lighting was often provided by gas lamps, which have also been implicated in the rise of the ghost story; the carbon monoxide they emitted could provoke hallucinations. And there was a preponderance of people encountering ghosts in their daily life come the middle of the century. In 1848, the young Fox sisters of New York heard a series of tappings, a spirit apparently communicating with them through code, and their story spread quickly. The vogue for spiritualism was under way. Spiritualists believed spirits residing in the afterlife were potentially able to commune with the living, and they set up seances to enable this.

Peter Lamont, author of Extraordinary Beliefs, says these gatherings started off quite simply, “and the phenomenon gets more and more impressive. There are floating tables, floating musical instruments, and at some point you get full-form materialisation of ghosts, dressed in white. Occasionally, the [apparition] would get grabbed at a seance and it was discovered that it was actually the medium.”

This interest in the supernatural might seem at odds with the growing body of scientific and technological knowledge, but many argue they were intimately connected. In the 19th century, people were increasingly able to communicate at a distance, in disembodied fashion. The telegraph allowed messages to be tapped out in code over long distances – not so unlike the Fox sisters’ purported ghost – and the ability to communicate first with other cities, then countries, eventually to transmit messages across the Atlantic, was brilliant and alarming. “If you can have people communicating from 3,000 miles away,” says Robbins, “words coming across the ocean, tapped out in Morse code, it may actually be quite a small leap of the imagination to say, ‘There’s a dead person who I used to know quite well who is talking to me through Morse code.’”

The growth of photography brought the advent of spirit photography – there were people who charged enormous fees, and used various tricks, to picture sitters with ghostly images of dead loved ones. William Mumler, for instance, who created a famous image of Mary Todd Lincoln with the ghostly hands of her dead husband, Abraham Lincoln, resting on her shoulders. Then came film and radio. Ghostly disembodied voices and images poured out of the screen and over the airwaves.

There were ghosts in the ether, under the bed, and more and more, in people’s heads. “Throughout the 19th century,” says Smith, “there is a progressive internalisation of horror, the idea that the monsters are not out there, but to be found within. That obviously culminates with Freud. With the ghost story there’s a sense that instead of being able to lock yourself away in your home, to leave the monster outside, the monster lives with you, and has a kind of intimacy.”

Merry Christmas – and sleep soundly.

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Joan of Arc

I know this now. Every man gives his life for what he believes. Every woman gives her life for what she believes. Sometimes people believe in little or nothing yet they give their lives to that little or nothing. One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. And then it is gone. But to sacrifice what you are and live without belief, that's more terrible than dying.--

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Beannacht

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

John O'Donohue, Echoes of Memory