The Chaldean Catholic Church of the Apostles Saints Peter and Paul

Authors: Hamza Khudair

Foundation and History

In 2010, Bishop Bashar Matti Warda, the Chaldean Catholic Bishop of Erbil, laid the cornerstone of the Saints Peter and Paul church in 108 District, a new part of Ankawa. This district has seen strong population growth, especially of Christians after heavy migration from Baghdad and other cities to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Therefore, the diocese decided to erect a new church to serve the community, with the help of the government. The Ministry of Endowment and Religious affairs allocated 5 billion Iraqi dinars (then about US$4.5 million) for the construction, in addition to the diocese’s contribution of 1 billion Iraqi dinars (about US$900,000). 

Main entrance leading to the churchyard. ©Hamza Khudair
Front view of the church. ©Hamza Khudair

Some people may think there are historic chronicles related to the name of the church, but Father Showan Hanna Boya has stated that “no chronicles exist in or around the church.”[1] It has not published any historical literature since the church was inaugurated in 2017, and has no plans to issue any publications in the future.

Recently, the church has witnessed some major events. When the church opened in 2017,[2] the patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, Louis Sako, consecrated the altar together with Bishop Bashar Warda and other Chaldean bishops. There have been guest bishops from different churches who are considered brothers and friends. In September 2018, four priests were ordained in the church by Louis Sako. There was also a celebration in memory of Saints Peter and Paul, which lasted for three days – with lectures, contests, and an evening of hymns.

Louis Sako, patriarch of the Chaldean Catholics, at the consecration of the church in 2017. ©Allen Kakony
Consecration ceremony at the church. © Allen Kakony

[1] Interviews with Father Showan Hanna Boya on March 1, 2019, and October 1, 2019.

[2] “Consecration of the Church of the Apostles Saints Peter and Paul in Ankawa” on June 30, 2017, translated from Arabic. Retrieved from Allen Kakony’s Facebook page.

Location and Building

The church is located in 108 District in the Erbil suburb of Ankawa, and has a capacity of 800 to 1,000 people. The design of the church is a combination of ancient and modern rococo styles, while preserving the old well-known church structure at the front. The hall of the church features the Stations of the Cross.

The church has a room for baptisms, another for changing clothes (vestments room), accommodation for the priest, and a bathroom where he can change his clothes for the sermon. The priest’s accommodation is located on the second floor, while a meeting hall and two offices (one for the priest, the other for the secretary) are at the front of the first floor. The classrooms of the Catechism School are on both floors. Some rooms and classes are under construction; they will be used to catechize children and young people, as the church decided to be in charge of this, rather than leave it to other organizations.

Catechism School. ©Hamza Khudair
Courtyard of the Catechism School. © Hamza Khudair

There is no library yet, but there are plans to construct one when the whole building is completed. Next to the church is a Christian teaching school authorized by the Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Erbil.

Prayer and Worship

The Church of Saints Peter and Paul holds around 20 to 50 daily religious prayers, called vespers, from 4 pm to 5:30 pm. Daily mass is at 7 am, with an average of 50 participants. Likewise, there is a mass in Arabic on Saturday at 6 pm for people who don’t understand the Syriac or neo-Aramaic languages.

On Sundays, there are two masses: One at 7 am and another at 6 pm. This is to enable people to attend Sunday mass since the sanctified day for Christians is a workday in Erbil. Father Showan estimated attendance between 400 and 500.[1] The congregation is generally 40% male and 60% female. Children make up about 20%, young adults 25%, middle-aged people 20% and the elderly 35%.

Congregation seated in the nave for the consecration ceremony. © Allen Kakony

A priest conducts the prayers and masses, while the deacons’ and nuns’ role is to assist the priest in several matters. For example, in this church Father Samir leads the prayers and the masses with his assistant, Father Showan.[2]

Mass starts at the scheduled time. Some people come on time, and some come early to prepare for mass. Some visitors stay afterwards to exchange greetings and to chat with the priest if they have any questions.

Youth choir performing during the consecration ceremony. ©Allen Kakony

The church welcomes volunteers and servants. The adult choir has 28 members including 25 servants and three nuns. The nuns help train the choir and teach hymns. Besides the servants, volunteers help the church in various matters and are organized in a brotherhood (mixed genders). For instance, the Assisi Brotherhood comprises 60 people whose ages range from 16 to 30.

Generally, the church has fully salaried employees, including a secretary, a sacristan, and the priests Father Samir and Father Showan, who are all paid by the Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Erbil.

Topics of the homilies tend to avoid politics. Usually, they are a reflection on the Bible. “We do not deal with political matters in our homilies. The priests are not allowed to interfere in politics,” said Father Showan.[3] During masses, readings from the Bible are the norm. Masses are supposed to help people to be aware of evil and to focus on good. To address negative situations in society, lectures are given on these topics, such as the danger posed by illegal drugs. In this case, specialized doctors will explain them scientifically.

Annual meetings are held in accordance with the liturgical year, including Christmas and Easter. The church holds special masses for these two events, since they are the holiest occasions in Christianity. During these events, the church tends to be full.

Life-cycle events in 2018 were as follows:[4]

First communions68

[1] Interviews with Father Showan Hanna Boya on March 1, 2019, and October 1, 2019.

[2] Interviews with Father Showan Hanna Boya on March 1, 2019, and October 1, 2019.

[3] Interviews with Father Showan Hanna Boya on March 1, 2019, and October 1, 2019.

[4] Information was given by Father Showan Hanna Boya on March 1, 2019, and October 1, 2019.

Community and Group Activities

The church has two choirs: One for adults and one for youngsters. Both choirs are of mixed genders. On Saturday, celebrations of mass are always accompanied by the youth choir, which numbers 30 members. The musicians are between 10 and 14 years old. The adult choir always accompanies the evening masses on Sunday.

Quite often, the church organizes activities such as competitions and festivals, and sometimes arranges visits to holy sites and to Erbil’s camps for displaced persons. The Assisi Brotherhood visits the elderly and sick to help them and make them feel happy, as the group is considered an effective part of society.

Maintenance duties are performed by the sacristan and a volunteer woman, although many people volunteer to help. There is no record of how many volunteers there are.

According to the last census undertaken in 2017, the church had 3,828 members from 729 families.

Memberships is slowly increasing. The main requirement to become a church member is that the applicant truly believes in Jesus Christ.

The church receives its financial support from donations of members and from the diocese, which finances the expenses related to the congregation.

Public Relations

The church has no websites or newsletters, nor any other means of contact. Notice boards outside the church hall advertise upcoming events.