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A story from the Middle East to help put some things in perspective:

The Vatican's ambassador to Iraq and a number of monks held the first mass in 1,500 years in one of the oldest monasteries in the Iraqi city of al-Hira (south of Najaf), and met with the top Iraqi Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

Hira had been a spiritual capital for Christians, and was a destination for monks for more than 500 years before the introduction of Islam to the country. There are 33 monasteries between Najaf and Kufa, some of which were only discovered recently. However, the majority of the monasteries in this region have yet to be rediscovered.

The Christian delegation — which included the Vatican's ambassador Giorgio Lingua, the head of Iraq's Christian Endowment, the endowment's general inspector and 15 pastors — met with Sistani.

And:

The director of the Department of Antiquities in Najaf, Mohammed Hadi Mayali, told Al-Hayat that "there are more than 60 Christian archaeological sites scattered throughout al-Hira and Najaf and the surrounding desert. People visit these sites on a weekly basis."

After Mass was performed at the site of one of the oldest churches in al-Hira — which had only been discovered recently — the pastor of the Chaldean Rising Church said that "this is the first [Christian] prayer performed in Hira in 1,500 years," adding that "it will be followed by other visits to all of the Christian sites, where we will hold prayer and introduce this city to the world."

Read the entire story on the Al-Monitor.com site.
 
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Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight.
 
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