Michael Monsoor's MOH- thoughts from Marcus Luttrell
The Freefly- Easter Good & Rosie Bad

O Come

During my Christmas embed, Major Kirk Luedeke gave me this release which apparently never made it out. I had said I would post it, but kept looking for the right time. Today, Easter Sunday, seems to me to be the proper time to showcase this photo release and another that went out about the same time. What news will come from this day? I don't know, but I look forward to finding out.


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BAGHDAD – Two young Christian girls pray during Christmas Morning mass at the St. George’s East Assyrian Church in Doura, Dec. 25. The church was heavily damaged by two vehicle borne explosive devices in Aug. 2004 but three years later, more than 300 worshippers filled the sanctuary to celebrate the holiday.
(U.S. Army photo by Maj. Kirk Luedeke, 4IBCT, 1ID)

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BAGHDAD – Local Muslim tribal leaders attend Christmas Morning mass at the St. George’s East Assyrian Church in Doura, Dec. 25. Since the security situation in south Baghdad has dramatically improved, Muslim leaders and citizens have reached out to their Christian neighbors, urging them to return and help rebuild their churches and lives.
(U.S. Army photo by Maj. Kirk Luedeke, 4IBCT, 1ID)


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BAGHDAD – A Christian woman receives Communion from Chaldean Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni during Christmas Morning mass at the St. John’s Church in Doura. The Church opened its doors again Nov. 15 after closing them in May due to the Al Qaeda and extremist threat in southern Baghdad. Chaldean Christians in the area have attended services regularly since then.
(U.S. Army photo by Maj. Kirk Luedeke, 4IBCT, 1ID)

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BAGHDAD – An altar boy eagerly rings a bell to celebrate Christmas at the conclusion of mass held at the St. John’s Chaldean Church in Doura. After receiving the sacrament, the congregation’s children were treated to a visit by Santa Claus.
(U.S. Army photo by Maj. Kirk Luedeke, 4IBCT, 1ID)


Two churches, one Christmas spirit

By Maj. Kirk Luedeke
4th IBCT Public Affairs

BAGHDAD –Although both were filled with people conducting worship services in Doura on Christmas morning, the two churches were a study in contrasts: one opulent and pristine, the other a destroyed shell of its former grand self.
Yet, not even a pair of car bombs detonated outside the St. George’s East Assyrian Church’s walls in Aug. 2004, nor the intimidation and threats leveled against the Chaldean Christians of Doura which forced the St. John’s Church to close in May were enough to suppress the holiday spirit in 2007.
“Your presence here today means that you have not let the terrorists take away your spirit,” Lt. Col. Timothy Watson, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment “Warriors,” out of Fort Polk, La, who recently assumed responsibility for the East Rashid neighborhood where both churches reside, said to several local Muslim leaders and Christian parishioners after the church services concluded.
The St. George’s Church, which had once been a beautiful shrine to God, according to one officer who served in Doura with the 101st Airborne Division in 2003 before the attack, had more than 300 people in attendance. There were piles of rubble in the corners, and the worshippers stood the entire time, with no pews left in the sanctuary. Brightly colored tapestries were hung up around the building to hide the openings in the walls created by the bomb blasts. The faint outlines of the church’s cross were visible high on vestibule, but the cross itself had long ago disappeared.
The service was the first conducted at that church since the attacks that so devastated the facility occurred in 2004. However, with the improved security situation in Doura, the Assyrians decided to hold mass this year. The original plan was to find another location to have the service, but the congregation decided to hold it in their damaged sanctuary instead.
“They’re going to rebuild this church,” said Capt. Ben Fielding, commander of Apache Company, 4th Battalion, 64th Armored Regiment “Tuskers,” out of Fort Stewart, Ga. attached to Task Force Dragon. “And they want to do it with minimal Coalition assistance. They’ve decided the time is right, and I’m very happy for them because I know how beautiful it once was.”
In the back of the room, a diminutive, smiling man wearing a suit watched the proceedings. One Soldier spoke to him, and the man related that this was the happiest time for Doura’s Christians in roughly five years. As the Soldier continued the conversation, he made the assumption that the man was a Christian.
A short while later, the man touched the Soldier’s arm and said, “I am Muslim, but we are all Iraqis here.” The man, Mr. Sa’ad, is one of the area’s tribal leaders, and a driving force behind the neighborhood’s recent efforts to ask their Christian neighbors to return to their homes.
The service was mostly held in Aramaic, the ancient language spoken in Jesus Christ’s time. Although the ceremony was a somber one against the backdrop of the extensive damage done, the mass concluded with an Arabic rendition of “O, Come All Ye Faithful,” and the congregation’s voices soared above the cathedral’s heights.
A little while later, at the St. John’s Chaldean Church, Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni conducted Christmas mass in the building’s sanctuary. Untouched by the ravages of war, the structure’s hand-carved woodwork, trappings and artwork serve as a reminder of what is and what can be for Iraq’s Christian population.
Bishop Warduni read from the scriptures in English, but much of the service was conducted in Arabic. Just before Holy Communion, he addressed the Soldiers in the audience, thanking them for their efforts, wishing their families peace and prosperity and beseeching the Lord to allow them to return safely to their homes when their tours were ended.
At the service’s conclusion, Santa Claus came out from a side room and the congregation’s children flooded him with cries of joy. Altar boys and choir girls rang bells and chanted happily as Santa Claus handed out small gifts. Capt. Fielding also donned a Santa hat and handed out candy from a large bag his mother sent him.
A few feet away, a diminutive, smiling man wearing a suit quietly approached and touched the same Soldier’s arm he had spoken to at St. George’s. “One day, I hope you will come to Iraq as a tourist and brother,” Mr. Sa’ad said before stepping aside to let his Christian friends enjoy a moment of peace in their own place on earth.
As the crowd began to disperse, heading to their homes to enjoy their respective Christmas feasts and rituals, one woman broke away and approached a Soldier who stood nearby, taking it all in.
“Merry Christmas,” she said with a smile in her thick Arabic accent, grasping his hands in hers, before turning and moving away to rejoin her family.

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With the outline of where the St. George’s East Assyrian Church cross once hung faintly visible on the vestibule wall, a beam of sunlight falls across the front of the sanctuary during Christmas morning mass. More than 300 Christians as well as local Muslim leaders turned out to celebrate the holiday in Doura. (U.S. Army photo by: Maj. Kirk Luedeke, 4IBCT, 1ID)


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Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni conducts Christmas morning mass at the St. John’s Church in Doura. More than 200 parishioners came out to celebrate the holiday. The church’s doors were closed from May-Nov. 2007 due to terrorist threat, but combined operations between Iraqi Army and coalition forces drove the extremists out, allowing St. John’s to resume regular services. (U.S. Army photo by: Maj. Kirk Luedeke, 4IBCT, 1ID Public Affairs)


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A St. John’s Church attendant spreads incense during the church’s Christmas morning mass in Doura. More than 200 Chaldean Cathlolics attended the service, which was conducted by Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni. (U.S. Army photo by: Maj. Kirk Luedeke, 4IBCT, 1ID)

I want to thank once again Soldier's Angels, Prudent Publishing (parent company of The Gallery Collection), and Gryphon Airlines for making my embed possible. I also want to thank Major Luedeke for his efforts in making both my embeds productive and fun. LW

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