Christmas and New Year’s Eve silently revived… The oldest Syriac church in southern Iraq faces the threat of collapse

The Church of Saint Joseph the Virgin witnessed many visits by high-ranking religious figures, the most prominent of which was the visit of Patriarch Mor Ignatius Joseph III Younan, Patriarch of the Syriac Catholic Antioch in the world, in early May 2021.

architecture- The Syriac Catholics in the city of Amarah, the capital of Maysan Governorate in southern Iraq, celebrated Christmas and New Year in silence. Their celebration was limited to some children throwing colorful balloons and lighting candles in the courtyard of one of their oldest and richest churches, at a time when the noise of revelers resounded in the nearby Chaldean Church of Umm Al-Ahzan.

The years of time have carved out the walls of the church of St. Joseph the Virgin, which houses the graves of the richest Syriac families in southern Iraq, and signs of neglect were engraved on them, revealing its black-clad bricks.

A picture hanging in the church dating back to 1928 (Al-Jazeera)

The church, which is located in one of the oldest popular neighborhoods in the city of Al-Amarah, was built in the old style, surrounded by residential rooms and a courtyard that Iraqis call “Hosh” in the local dialect. It is still covered with what is known as “Qurashi tiles” that were made in the past.

The church yard bears many pieces of alabaster inscribed with evidence and inscriptions, including evidence that it was built by its founder Al Hanna Al Sheikh in 1940, at a time when Louay – a member of two poor families living in it – confirms that “the church was built in an earlier date, but it was restored.” 1940”, citing one of the pictures hanging on its corridors, on which was written Al-Amarah Church for the Syriacs 1928.

Juma Al-Malki, President of the Al-Huda Foundation for Strategic StudiesAl-Maliki: Most of the Syriac families left Maysan Governorate, and some immigrated outside the country (Al-Jazeera)

Peaceful coexistence

Regarding the presence of places of worship belonging to different sects in the city of Al-Amarah, the head of the Al-Huda Foundation for Strategic Studies in Maysan Governorate, the writer and blogger Juma Al-Maliki, says that “Maysan, with the extension of its districts and districts, is an area of ​​peaceful coexistence, as evidenced by the existence of non-Muslim sects that have coexisted peacefully and for centuries with the Muslim majority in it. There are followers of the Chaldean Christian sect and they have a church that is the mother of sorrows, and there is another church, which is the Church of St. Joseph the Virgin, which was founded by the well-known figure in Iraq, Hanna Sheikh, who has monuments and properties that are still witnessing, and there are many families distributed over the Maysan regions and they live in peace and respect The Mandaeans live as well.

The poor financial situation and reliance on jobs that barely meet family and living needs, was one of the most important reasons that made these two Syriac families use the rooms surrounding the church as their residence, despite facing the dangers of its collapse, amid the departure of the majority of Syriac families, including the royal family that built the church. Which left the province of Maysan, and some of them migrated outside the country.

As for the reasons behind the departure of many Christian families, Al-Maliki says to Al-Jazeera Net, “The Maysan Governorate, as a result of its reality, which it experienced from the fifties until the American invasion of the country in 2003, turned into a province that expelled more than 4 million citizens of its children, including Syriacs and others, because of the situation. The security and political pressures she went through, as well as the difficulty of living after losing many of the ingredients.”

The visit of the Patriarch and the Minister of Immigration to the Synagogue - communication sitesThe Syriac Catholic Patriarch of Antioch in the world visited the church in May 2021 (communication sites)

The church courtyard contains tombstones of many men and women, belonging to Syriac families who lived in the city, bearing the names and dates of their deaths, some of which date back to the 1930s.

High-ranking religious figures visited the church, the most prominent of which was the visit of Patriarch Mor Ignatius Youssef III Younan, Patriarch of the Syriac Catholic Antioch in the world, in early May 2021. The Patriarch performed a prayer of thanksgiving in it, and was accompanied during the visit by the Iraqi Minister of Immigration and Displacement, Evan Jabro.

The dome that contains the church bell _ the islandThe dome that contains the church bell (the island)

Despite the visits that the church witnesses, it still suffers from neglect and is in danger of collapsing, after its residents left the upper floor amid loud voices to take care of it as it is a southern heritage.

Al-Maliki calls on the concerned authorities to support the Syriac families who live in the Church of St. Joseph al-Batoul, and to provide adequate housing and decent means of living, and then reconstruct the church as it is a Messianic heritage that expresses peaceful coexistence and the diversity of the sects inhabiting the governorate.

In addition to the colorful balloons in the churchyard, there are remnants of candles in its hall, while old colored glass embroidered one of its open doors to represent an outlet for the birds that found safety in it and on the dome of its bells.

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