Although Iraq is 98% Muslim, Christmas will become a public holiday throughout the country this year.
The Iraqi Parliament passed the proposal with a unanimous vote Wednesday. It came just months before a historic visit to Iraq by Pope Francis.
During an October 17 meeting with Iraqi President Barham Salih, Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, proposed extending the Christmas holiday to all of Iraq. It had been a national holiday one year, and on a regular basis is an official holiday in only one province.
During the meeting, Salih, a Kurd who studied in Great Britain, recognized the role of Christian communities in the reconstruction of Iraq and reaffirmed the country’s commitment to assist the return of displaced Christians, beginning with Mosul and the Nineveh Plain, following jihadist occupation.
In 2008, the government had declared Christmas a “once-only” holiday, but that was not repeated in subsequent years. Only the province of Kirkuk has granted a Christmas holiday.
After Wednesday’s vote, Cardinal Sako thanked Salih and members of Parliament “for the vow cast for the good of their fellow Christians.”
Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Iraq March 5-8, stopping in Baghdad, Erbil, Qaraqosh, Mosul, and the Plain of Ur, traditionally recognized as the birthplace of Abraham. It will be the first time a pope has traveled to Iraq.
Auxiliary Bishop Basilio Yaldo of Baghdad called the vote on the holiday historic “because today Christmas is truly a celebration for all Iraqis.”
“This is a message of great value and great hope for Christians and for all of Iraq and is inevitably linked to the pontiff’s apostolic journey to our country in March,” Yaldo told Asia News. “This is one of the first fruits we hope will bring many others in the future.”