Skip to content

'We still continue living with love' - Heartsick Iraqi Christians in U.S. plan powerful midnight Mass

'I want to have a better future for my kids.'

Iraqi Christians who relocated to the United States admit this Christmas will be difficult without their loved ones, who remain trapped beneath the bloody boots of the Islamic State.


Catholic Online (
12/6/2016 (7 years ago)

Published in Christmas / Advent

Keywords: Christians, Iraq, Christmas, family, Baghdad

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Firaz Rassam is a Christian who relocated to Chicago.

She and her sister Victoria attend the St. Ephrem Chaldean Catholic Church, where row after row of pews are full of parishioners.

Following Mass Sunday morning, the Rassam sisters told the Catholic Herald they prayed Victoria's "children would be able to get out (of northern Iraq) in time" before an ISIS attack reaches their small Christian hub in the Kurdish region.

Firaz arrived in Chicago only three months ago and laments this will be her first Christmas without "the type of happiness that (her family) normally would celebrate."

She continued, explaining: "The environment over there. There's no electricity. It's dangerous. There's no work. I want to have a better future for my kids."

Victoria, who migrated to Chicago two years ago without her family, remains hopeful they will reunite within the safety of the United States.

Victoria shared she could only pray and was "really hoping" she could see her children again very soon.

The Rassam sisters are not alone.

Hundreds of Christian families will be spending Christmas apart from their loved ones, who remain in constant fear of an attack from the Islamic State.

Many who attend St. Ephrem, including Deacon Hameed Shabila, have memories of family members trapped in the Middle East.

He told CNS when he was in Baghdad, none of the Christians could safely attend Mass.

Churches were heavily guarded by armed forces as soon as night fell, forcing parishioners to do without midnight Masses.

Iraqi Christians in the U.S. have to resort to technology to learn news of their families. They use messaging and calling apps such as Viber to get as close to their loved ones as possible.

Even with the ability to communicate, each family feels the stresses of being unable to physically touch one another - to hug and hold through both amazing and tragic times.

Each person has a story of loved ones lost, separated or gone from their homeland.

Deacon Shabila translated for parishioner Maria Yonan, who shared she and her daughter-in-law fled with her two grandsons as soon as her son was killed during New Year's celebrations.

She described how the Jihads attacked her son and his friends.

Yonan, her grandsons and her daughter-in-law lived as refugees in Syria, trying to reach Australia where her daughter-in-law's relatives live but the wait was so long they decided to move to the United States.

Yonan has two daughters, one of whom arrived to the United States as a refugee and is currently living in California, the other who remained in the Middle East with her family.

Life for many of those who fled their war-torn countries shared Yonan's sentiments of keeping with traditions their families kept in Iraq.

Yonan shared each Christmas they attend the midnight Mass at St. Ephrem's, where everyone speaks her language.

Her grandsons always visit for the holidays and every Christmas she makes them a special holiday treat called klecha, a sweet she said "makes people happy" and is a symbol of joy - but there will be no klecha this year.

Yonan will refrain from making the special treat this Christmas because she remains in mourning for her son-in-law, who died from a heart attack in Baghdad.

The other parishioners plan to celebrate a special midnight Mass this year to honor their family members who remain in Baghdad.

During the Mass, families will prayers to be reunited with their loved ones once again and for a swift end to the war.

"This Christmas we will celebrate by going to midnight Mass and praying for them," Victoria shared

Rakan Kunda, who has been living in the United States for twenty years, shared they "always back home."

Kunda shared, "We think about them. We pray for them but there's nothing we can do at this point. Until all this is over."

Habiba Taufiq shared the last time her family met together "was 2005. Maybe 2006."

She hopes to reunite with family in Australia soon and refuses to let the distance or time separate the love they share: "The circumstances separated us and now we are in different countries. But we still continue living with love."


'Help Give every Student and Teacher FREE resources for a world-class Moral Catholic Education'

Copyright 2021 - Distributed by Catholic Online

Join the Movement
When you sign up below, you don't just join an email list - you're joining an entire movement for Free world class Catholic education.

Saint of the Day logo
Prayer of the Day logo

Catholic Online Logo

Copyright 2024 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2024 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.

Catholic Online is a Project of Your Catholic Voice Foundation, a Not-for-Profit Corporation. Your Catholic Voice Foundation has been granted a recognition of tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Federal Tax Identification Number: 81-0596847. Your gift is tax-deductible as allowed by law.