Largest Church Body in Iraq Reschedules Christmas Eve Mass

This year, Iraq's largest Christian community will be celebrating traditional Christmas mass earlier than normal after a string church bombings across the war-torn country.

Chaldean patriarch Emmanuel Delly has ordered that the usual 10 p.m. (1900 GMT) Dec. 24 service be moved forward to 5 p.m., said Bishop Andreas Abuna as reported by Agence France-Presse (AFP).

"It is a way to protest against the attacks. We want peace," Abuna said, denying that the mass schedule has been altered because of security fears.

According to Abuna, Delly has also advised worshippers not to travel to present him with Christmas greetings--as is the custom--although mass will take place as normal on Dec. 25.

In recent months, a string of increasing violence directed at Iraq's Christian minority has led to the destruction of places of worship and the building exodus of 10,000 to 40,000 or so believers.

In the most recent violence against Iraq’s minority Christian community, gunmen attacked two churches in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on Dec. 7, forcing people to leave and setting off explosions inside the buildings that caused damage but no personal harm.

Last month, masked men detonated a bomb near an Orthodox Church in southern Baghdad, killing three people and wounding 34. In October, five Baghdad churches were attacked, causing damage but no casualties. And in August, similar attacks killed at least 10 and wounded nearly 50 Iraqi Christians.

The attacks follow an outbreak of insurgent violence across Iraq as the country nears its first democratic elections, slated for Jan. 30.