Iraq declares Christmas Day national holiday
"We extend our warmest wishes to Christians in Iraq and around the world for a very happy and peaceful Christmas," the government said in a Tuesday morning tweet.
According to Reuters, Iraq's Christian population dropped from 1.5 million to approximately 400,000 after the American invasion in 2003 and that number has likely fallen further after ISIS swept across the north of the country in 2014. Iraq declared victory over ISIS last year.
In an acknowledgment of the improved security situation, Pope Francis has dispatched his trusted secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, to Iraq to celebrate the Christmas season.
Christian communities have existed in Iraq since the first century and the Vatican has urged Christians who have fled persecution in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere in the Middle East to return to their homes when security conditions permit. ■