Displaced Iraqi Christians who have been pushed from their homes due to the rise of the Islamic State and are now living in the Kurdish town of Ankawa will soon have one of the largest churches in the region to call their place of worship.
The Kurdish news site Rudaw reported that the Church of St. Petrous and Pols (Peter and Paul's) held its opening ceremony on Thursday after about eight years of construction. Although the church is not completely finished and only the prayer hall has been completed, the church is expected to sit as many as 1,300 people.
According to an earlier Rudaw report, the church will be the largest church in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.
"When finished this will be one of the biggest such projects in the Middle East." Khalid Jamal, head of Christian Affairs department at the Kurdistan Regional Government, told Rudaw.
According to Rudaw, most of the attendees of the opening ceremony on Thursday are originally from Ainkawa. However, the service was also attended by displaced Christians who are originally from the Mosul area, Baghdad, other areas of Iraq and Syria.
One Syrian refugee, Miriam Sileman, told Rudaw that she is excited that the church is finally open.
"I now live here. I'm very happy about this church and I'll always come here to pray," she said.
The Rudaw report states that when the church is finally completed, it will become home to Christians across the region "whose churches and homes have been destroyed."
"Building this church with support from the Kurdish government is a message that shows there is a link with and support for Christians," Bishop Bashar Matti told Rudaw.
In May, Ashour Jarjis, who is leading the construction project, told Rudaw that the church will be among the "most magnificent" in Iraq.
"The project itself has been developed over several years and will even house a school for Christian studies and languages," he explained. "It will have a modern architecture which will also reflect the history of Erbil and its surrounding areas."
As there has been a massive influx of displaced Christians that have traveled to Kurdistan to seek shelter and aid over the last several years, Rudaw reports that there are plans to increase the number of churches in Kurdistan to accommodate the increase in Christian migration.
Rudaw reported in May that there were as many as 127 churches and 24 shrines in Kurdistan.
Commenting on the church's opening, the Christian persecution advocacy organization International Christian Concern praised the Kurdish government.
"This church will be a place where Christians who have lost their homes and churches can feel welcomed," an ICC webpage reads. "It also shows the Kurdish government's support for the Christian community. After so much pain, Christians with no place to go see a home in the Kurdistan region."