With a tear rolling down his cheek, Fr Faris Toma stood amid the wreckage outside his Baghdad church yesterday, and prayed for the bombers who killed 10 of his congregation.
An Iraqi woman passes a church bombed yesterday
"We cannot understand why or how they could do something like this," he said. "All we can do is ask God to give them forgiveness and grant us peace."
As American soldiers picked through the blackened remains of 19 vehicles in the church compound, an elderly man, supported by a young priest, wept quietly. His son was among those killed by the blast as they left after Vespers at the Chaldean Church of St Peter and St Paul, in the capital’s Doura district.
At least 12 people died in Sunday’s attacks on five churches in Baghdad and Mosul – the first time terrorists have openly targeted Iraq’s Christian minority since the fall of Saddam Hussein. With Iraq racked by violence, many Christians knew they were likely to become victims of militants at some stage, yet some were taken aback by the co-ordination and brutality of these attacks.
Despite the shock, Christians at churches across Baghdad preached a twin message of forgiveness and defiance yesterday.
"I am honoured to be a Christian, and to keep a low profile would be to deny my faith," said Tania, a 21-year-old woman, outside an Assyrian church. "I’ll be at church as usual next Sunday."