Baghdad Catholics Are Hanging On, for Now

BAGHDAD, Iraq, MARCH 5, 2003 ( Catholics in Baghdad marked Ash Wednesday by embracing the Pope’s call for a day of prayer and fasting for peace.

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Latin-rite Archbishop Jean Benjamin Sleiman explained how the faithful were faring.

«Above all it is a hint of hope,» he told the Misna missionary agency. «We know that there will be a Mass in Washington with Cardinal Pio Laghi and therefore, symbolically, this Mass is in communion for peace.»

«It is as if the people are waiting,» the archbishop added. «The streets are emptier. Many have departed — those who can try.»

Referring to the Gulf War, he said: «The people are frightened … after 12 years they know that military technologies have improved and are more hazardous.»

«I can tell you about my small Latin community still there, maybe 150 people,» he said. «Certainly not only children, but also adults are living in misery. Overall, maybe three or four live with some dignity, the rest are all below the poverty rate.»

«Basic nourishment exists, but I do not think it is sufficient for the children,» Archbishop Sleiman said. «Also the quality of goods is no longer the same. The schools work, offices are open, but there is certainly a very agonizing wait.»

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