The Holy Father will pay a visit to the Al-Tahera Church on Sunday 7th March in Qaraqosh, the town in northern Iraq also known as Baghdeda or Bakhdida. Father Yako Ammar, the parish priest of Al-Tahira, explains in a conversation with Aid to the Church in Need, the Catholic charity organization that supported the restoration of the church, the symbolism of the stole Pope Francis will receive on the new step of his journey.
The stole is entirely handmade from the fabric woven by Khaya Bakter, a local artisan, in the traditional colours of Qaraqosh (black and purple).
Gorjia Kapo, a mother of two sons and a daughter, was then entrusted with the task of embroidering and decorating the stole. Her family has lived in Qaraqosh for many generations, but in 2014 they had to flee because of ISIS. Now she with her family have returned and decided to stay to rebuild the town and resume its traditions. One of Gorjia’s sons decided to become a priest and was ordained a year ago.
“On one side of the stole is the Lord’s prayer – Our Father – in our language, Syriac, which comes from Aramaic, the original language of Jesus. On the other side is the Hail Mary,” reveals Father Ammar, who designed the stole.
“The crosses at the two ends of the stole are the crosses of the Al-Tahera church, the same crosses as inside the church that were destroyed by ISIS during the occupation. These crosses are now the symbol of a new life. As the stole is a very symbolic ornament for us, priests, Gorjia has also included bread and wine in the embroidery, the symbols of the Eucharistic mystery” explains Father Ammar.
The Iraqi priest ordered two stoles to present to the Holy Father in Qaraqosh: the one made by Gorjia, as a symbol of the Christians who decided to stay in Qaraqosh despite all the difficulties, and the one made by Iman Qasab, a Christian from Qaraqosh who had to give up her roots and culture to emigrate to Canada during the terrorist occupation. The latter stole is decorated with a palm tree, the symbol of Iraq, which also appears in the logo of the Pope’s visit.
Both fates – those who stayed despite many hardships as well as those who had to leave their homes – are part of this city, and both kinds of sufferings will be represented in the gift to Pope Francis.