Iraq Christians defy threats by unveiling Jesus statue
Amid mounting extremist attacks, the Christians of northern Iraq unveiled recently a statue of Jesus modeled after the giant Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro.
Although it is only a 10th of the size of the 130-foot statue in Brazil, it has become a popular shrine for Christian believers in beleaguered Hamdaniya, northern Iraq’s largest Christian town.
The statue stands at Baghdeda’s check point No. 1 at the entrance to the town.
Najib Attallah, head of the checkpoint where the statue stands, said the idea came from his security guards.
“In the past we would set up the crib at Christmas, but the guards wanted to build a statue for Easter that would resemble Christ Redeemer in Brazil,” said Fr. Louis Kassab, chairman of the Committee for Religious Affairs.
With two checkpoint guards devoting 18 hours weekly, plus 20 other volunteers, the construction lasted about a month and a half. The guards were Alaa Nasir Kithya and Amaar Anaya. The project was funded by donations from believers, at a total cost of some 130 dollars.
Christians in the area are familiar with violence. Bashar Jarjees Habash, the city’s coordinator of Christian affairs said the idea of building the statue was “to send a message …that we want to live in peace with all….even those who fight and threaten them,” he told the AFP.
In February, Human Rights Watch called on Iraq’s government to do more to bolster security and protect Christians after a string of deadly attacks on the community ahead of last month’s elections.
Eight Christians were killed in and around Mosul within 10 days in February, and since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, there has been no letup in persecution for the nation’s 550,000 Christians, most of them Chaldeans.
Pope Benedict XVI condemned the violence against Iraqi Christians in his Easter message this month, and urged authorities to do more to protect the “vulnerable” minority.