How do Christians under pressure for their faith celebrate Christmas? In the seventh in our series we hear from a Lebanese Catholic who helps look after Iraqi and Syrian refugees in Beirut.
Lebanon has absorbed more than a million refugees from conflicts in nearby Syria and Iraq, where Christians either fled general violence or direct targeting. Because of Lebanon’s multi-faith make-up, many Iraqi and Syrian Christians have sought refuge there. They may not be the most materially impoverished, because the Churches there have tried hard to help them find rented accommodation.
However, Raphaël Paul Koupaly, Vice President of the Chaldean Charity Association, said that the Iraqi Christian refugees he looks after in Beirut feel their losses more keenly at Christmas, because their families are scattered and they are reduced to celebrating it in a way that feels alien to them. They live off savings or charity: in Iraq “it was easier for them to give gifts; here they have to wait for the Church to distribute them.” Even the flour and the nuts for the festive treats are slightly different, so they don’t quite taste right!
At home, Iraqi Christians would go to church on Christmas Eve for a host of special events. In Beirut, where many feel scared to go out into a city they do not know, “they’ll only go to church at midnight, then go home.” The association put on a free Christmas concert in Beirut cathedral for refugees, two Christmas parties for 1,200 children with gifts and food and animators, and is distributing food and hygiene parcels for 600 families for Christmas.