Iraqi Christians Celebrate Christmas in Canada
Dalia, Ziyad and Kristel Matti are pictured in Edmonton, Alberta, in early December after fleeing persecution in Iraq. The couple and their 1-year-old daughter had been living in Lebanon after their escape from Iraq in 2009. (photo: CNS/Ramon Gonzalez)
16 Dec 2011 by Catholic News Service
EDMONTON, Alberta (CNS) — Iraqi Ziyad Matti
and his wife, Dalia Hikmat, have not had a proper
Christmas in years.
They are looking forward to a quiet, peaceful
celebration of Christmas as the settle in their new country
and learn their way around.
The couple and their 1-year-old daughter, Kristel,
arrived in Edmonton in early December from Lebanon,
where they had been living since their escape from Iraq in
They are staying at the Rotary Centre for New
Canadians, a complex for refugees and immigrants run by
Catholic Social Services. Matti is a computer engineer,
and Hikmat a chemical engineer. They are Orthodox
The couple spoke to the Western Catholic
Reporter, Edmontons archdiocesan newspaper, Dec. 13
through an interpreter, Azhar Aziz, a staff member at the
Before the American-led invasion in 2003, there
was harmony among religions in Iraq. Christians would
celebrate Christmas openly and their Muslim friends
would say Merry Christmas to you, recalled Hikmat.
They would set up a well-decorated Christmas
tree in the living room, surrounded by presents, and a
On Christmas Eve, they would attend Mass late at
night and the next day they would celebrate with friends,
dining on turkey and opening presents. Those were happy
Everything changed in 2003 when groups began
bombing Christian churches and persecuting Christians.
Before that, all religions lived together in
harmony. Now they are fighting Christians, Matti said.
New faces came to Iraq and started to fight the Christian
The couple spoke of a society dominated by fear
where some groups use Islam to justify violence and
divide Iraqi society.
They recalled when they were living in Baghdad
and a Christian church was bombed, and many people
were killed. They eventually moved to a small village near
the city of Mosul.
As Christian persecution continued, they
celebrated Christmas quietly in their own home. The
Nativity scene had to be hidden under the tree in case
someone came in. Instead of going to Mass at night, they
would have to go at 6 a.m.
And there was no more turkey for Christmas
dinner because they could not afford it.
Hikmat said restrictions and danger are all over
Iraq, especially for Christians. Once her brother and sister
were going to college when an armed gang stopped them.
They told her to start wearing a hijab and told them they
could not be seen together as woman and man.
"This is a warning. Next time well kill you," she
said they were told.
Asked if Iraq will ever return to peace, the couple
said, No way. However, they said, they hope and pray
that better times return to their homeland.
Tags: Middle East Christians Iraq Iraqi Christians Canada