Father Najeeb Michaeel inspects an old Christian book at the Oriental Manuscript Digitisation Centre (CNDO) in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region on March 1, 2018. Photo: Safin Hamed | AFP
KOYA, Kurdistan Region — Christians in Koya are looking to increase the number of churches because often services are overflowing, leaving followers no place to collectively worship.
There are currently two churches in Koya. The largest is Maryam Pakiza in Harmota quarter. Koya city also has a small church.
"They are disproportionate to the number of Christians living in Koya and Harmota. Many visit the church, especially the Mariam Pakiza church in Harmota, where most events are held," Hawzhin Slewa, a lecturer at Koya University told Rudaw.
Because of the limited space, the local bishop delivers two separate sermons.
"That is why we need a big church, and we have asked for this on several occasions," Slewa added.
Dinha Toma, the bishop, told Rudaw that the current capacity is about 350. He is calling on former Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani and the Vatican to assist.
“When Masoud Barzani visited the city of Koya, we asked him for a new church and a stadium. They have built the stadium, and the church is yet to be built," Toma told Rudaw.
The local archbishop has also promised to relay the locals' concerns to the Holy See.
"The archbishop visited Koya and Harmota recently," added Toma. "We asked him about this too, and we agreed that a big church needed to be built in Harmota for the Christians living in Koya and Harmota.
"He promised us a new church too, but we are waiting for him to return from Rome so that we present this request officially to him."
According to statistics provided to Rudaw by Toma, Christian families number 118 in Harmota and 60 in Koya, totaling more than 700 people. Harmota makes up 9 percent of the city of Koya.
Mariam Pakiza church was built in this district in 1868. It was renovated in 1979 and in 2009. In addition to the sanctuary, the grounds have a courtyard and cemetery.
Khalid Jamal, the director general of Christian affairs at the ministry of religious affairs, told Rudaw that a piece of land in the municipality has been dedicated for the construction of a church.
“There are no problems for the construction of churches..." added Jamel. "We will surely build the church whenever the project is approved and the money designated for the project is sent to the ministry."
He cited Kurdistan's "financial crisis" for the halting of projects since 2014.
KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani had a short meeting with the Pope at the Vatican on January 12.
The last census in Iraq was in 1987, when 1.5 million Christians were counted. Prior to ISIS, local groups estimate the Christian population was 400,000-600,000. About half have left Iraq since 2014, and around 130,000 sought shelter in the Kurdistan Region.
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