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Christmas carols bring solace to Libya’s fearful Christians

Since Qaddafi’s, the small community’s fears for its safety increased after militants claimed to have killed dozens of Christians in Libya this year

Published: Updated:

In the capital of war-torn Libya, a dwindling Christian community of foreign workers leave their fears and anxieties at the church door as they gather for Christmas carols and laughter.

Lisa, a 47-year-old Filipina nurse, said she had just celebrated the festival of lights “for the tenth consecutive year” at Saint Francis Church, referring to the start of advent and the Christmas season.

Lisa, who has worked at a private clinic in Tripoli for 15 years, held a candle in one hand and adjusted her Santa Claus hat with the other.

Around her, excited children ran around before being directed to Bible class, as rooms in the church filled with the sounds of hymns and laughter.

Since the 2011 fall of dictator Muammar Qaddafi, the small community’s fears for its safety have increased, especially after militants claimed to have killed dozens of Christians in the country this year.

But every Friday - a day off in Libya - they still flock to Saint Francis, one of the capital’s only churches still open, to pray and support each other.

In a central courtyard, men and women from the Philippines, India and several African nations exchange news as they sell products from their home countries.

Jollof rice and peanut soup are on offer beside colorful textiles, home remedies and specialized hair products.

Dwindling numbers

Most Westerners fled Libya after August 2014, when an Islamist-backed militia alliance overran Tripoli, prompting the internationally recognized government to flee to the country’s Far East.

But with little hope of finding work back home, workers from Asia, Africa and other parts of the Arab world opted to stay put.
More than 100,000 Christians lived in Libya before the 2011 revolution that toppled Kadhafi, said Father Magdi, an Egyptian priest who arrived in Libya before the uprising.

“Today, we’re only about 5,000 -- and less than 1,000 in Tripoli,” he said.
ISIS has exploited the chaos in Libya since the uprising to expand its influence in the country.

Earlier this year, it claimed to have executed 21 Coptic Christians - all but one of them from Egypt - and 28 Christians originally from Ethiopia.

The international community is pressing Libya’s two rival administrations to form a unity government and combine their forces against ISIS.

As rival politicians edge closer to a deal, Christian expats view church as a source of relief from wider political tensions.