A Report from the Streets of Baghdad: An English-Arabic Mass, a Refugee's Story, and Rituals of Security
Carr, Joe, National Catholic Reporter
Editor's note: Joe Carr recently joined the Christian Peacemakers Team in Iraq. This is the first of his periodic reports from Iraq that NCR plans to run.
Sunday, May 8
Today was our day off (we get Fridays and Sundays), so I slept in to recover from my stressful travel. Iraqi Christians have church services in the morning and the evening, so at 6 p.m. we headed down the street to San Rafael's Catholic Church for their evening Mass. It's a small congregation so we three internationals certainly stand out, but we've been going a long time and are quite welcome. This service is in English, to serve a group of Dominican Sisters and any other English speakers left over from the years of British occupation. About half the prayers, readings and songs were in Arabic, but I was able to follow along and participate, particularly in the singing, which was a bit livelier than American Catholic services. My grandma would be happy to know that I went to a Catholic Mass, as long as she didn't know that it was in Iraq.
On the way home, I was cheerfully greeted by a group of young children excited to see us. They were thin, dirty and smiling bigger than I've seen in a while: They hollered at me and grabbed my hands, holding them for about a block. Apparently, their family is homeless and is squatting in an abandoned shop near our house. I'll get more of their story later.
After dinner, one of our young translators stopped by. "What's up, man?" he said in the most natural English slang I've heard from an Iraqi. I was convinced he'd lived in the States, but to my surprise he's spent his whole life in Iraq. He's a Palestinian Iraqi who learned English in school and took in plenty of American movies and music as a kid. When the United States invaded Baghdad, they swept through his neighborhood while he was hanging out with his friends. One of the soldiers heard him speaking English and hooked him up a job as personal translator for a lieutenant. After a while, they said they needed to do a security check on him or he'd be fired. …