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The Second Chapter

First attempts to rebuild the Church

Short while after the First World War and with the return of the security and safety to the region, the Christians of Urmi started to come back to their land. During this period Mngr. Givargis Babela, one of the priests from the city of Salamas who had survived the massacres of Christians, took charge in leading the Christian population of Urmi.

Within a few years and with the improvements in socio-economical situation of people, the Christian population of Urmi began to increase. Mar Issac (Es-hagh) Khodabakhsh was elected as the Archbishop of Catholic Diocese of Urmi in 1930.  His Excellency Eshagh Khodabakhsh a native of Salamas, previously was the patriarchal vicar of Chaldean Catholic Church in Cairo, Egypt. It’s noteworthy that after his election the dioceses of Salamas and Urmi merged into one Catholic Archdiocese of Urmi.

 
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His Excellency Eshagh Khodabakhsh
 

With the improvements in the lives of people and increase in number of faithful the necessity to rebuild the church structure became more and more apparent.   Bishop Khodabakhsh exhausted all his efforts in order to rebuild the church, yet in the end he was not successful to do so. Below are some of the communiqué between His Excellency and the officials of the then government.

 

  • Letter to the interior ministry,

In 1937Mar Khodabakhsh wrote a letter to the officials, requesting the permit for rebuilding the church, but he didn’t receive any reply. Two years later, in May of 1939, with the encouragement of Mr. François Malek Karam, one of the famous members of Assyrian-Chaldean Catholic Church of Tehran and the publisher of French newspaper “Messager de Tehran”, he wrote a letter to the Minister of Interior as appears below;

Department of Interior

It’s to respectfully inform you that the church of the Catholic faithful of Rezayeh has been demolished and at this time only its walls and columns to the height of 4ft are remained. This situation has forced the faithful to conduct their religious ceremonies in the foreigners’ sanctuary, which in the view of local officials is not acceptable and they are encouraging us to secure a location for ourselves, which is a very appropriate and valid suggestion. Therefore we request a permission to rebuild our church over the foundation remains in order to have our faithful to conduct their religious ceremonies and pray for the health and wellness of His Royal Majesty and the strength and prosperity of our government and country.

†Isaac Khodabakhsh

Bishop of Rezayeh and Shahpour

Address: Messager de Tehran (Shah Ave., Kaykhosro Shahrokh alley), Tel: 4612

As it was mentioned earlier Mar Khodabkhsh had submitted his first request in 1937, yet he had not received any response. The officials in Rezayeh after submitting the documents to the Interior Minister, received the following reply:

Previously this person (Mar Khodabakhsh) through the Fourth Provincial Government had requested repairing of the Catholic Church in Rezayeh. The request was submitted to Prime Minister and the reply was that his request could not be accepted. Then the order was sent to the governance of Rezayeh. Apparently he (Bishop Khodabakhsh) has written another request directly to the Interior Ministry.

Dated: May 1, 1939

Another letter from the “central political office” of interior department was sent on 5/1/1939.

Governance of Rezayeh

Following to letter # 4043/67597,in respect to the request of Bishop Khodabkhsh on repairing the Church of Chaldean Catholics in Rezayeh, the copy of repeated request to the Interior Department and its reply to him are attached, stating the forbiddance of repairs, according to the letter # 4533/79807.

In the bottom of this letter the signature of two persons dated May 2 are present.

These didn’t discourage His Excellency Bishop Khodabkhsh and he continued his campaign with another letter to the Interior Ministry.

Interior Department

The faithful of Chaldean Catholic Church of Rezayeh, who are the loyal and earnest citizens of His Majesty’s government, own a church in the town of Rezayeh  that it has been for sometimes in ruins, yet its walls and columns, to the height of 4 to 6 ft, still remain. Humbly requesting that this honest group of Iranian peasants to be able to rebuild their church upon the remains of foundation and thus are not forced to pray in the church of other foreign nations but to have their own special place to conduct their religious duties and pray for the blessed spirit of His Majesty and the country.

†Isaac Khodabakhsh

Bishop of Rezayeh & Shahpour

Numbered 885 and dated May 24, 1939 is indicated at the bottom of this letter.

Finally the department of interior sided with Bishop Khodabakhsh’s request and conveyed its own positive opinion to prime minister. It also requested from the office of prime minister to direct an order on this matter and thus finalizing its situation. The content of the Interior Minister to Prime Minister was the following.

Letter # 885/19501

Date: May 26, 1939

Dear Prime Minister,

After receiving memo number 16718, dated March 4, 1937 in respect to rebuilding of church for Chaldean Catholics that bishop Khodabakhsh had requested, as YOU had directed the order was conveyed to the governance of Rezayeh. Again there is a new request from this bishop pertaining to the previous existence of a church for the Catholic faithful of that city which it has been in ruins with some of its walls and columns to the height of 4 to 6 ft still remaining and thus they are forced to go to the church belonging to the foreigners. He has requested a permission to be granted to            rebuild their church upon the remains of the previous building which from department of interior’s viewpoint as the traffic of Iranian Catholics to the foreigners’ sanctuary is a not a good publicity, the permission is to be granted, of course upon His Eminence wishes, as your orders are to be fulfilled.

Prime Minister’s reply to Interior Minister:

Department of Interior

Referred to 885/19501 upon His Majesty’s order, it is not to agree to the request of Khodabakhsh, representative of Pope, in regard to rebuilding of the church for Chaldean Catholics of Rezayeh and to deny his request.

Prime Minister

Jam

    Unfortunately all of the continuous efforts of bishop Khodabakhsh to receive a permission in order to rebuild the Catholic Church of Urmi were defeated, yet he was never discouraged, evidenced by he even began to prepare the building materials for construction of the church. Based on the writings of bishop Mar Zaia Dashtoo, bishop Khodabakhsh had purchased about 250 thousands bricks for this purpose!

The start of the 2nd World War and old age didn’t allow this esteemed bishop to continue his efforts when he passed away in 1939. With his departure the efforts to rebuild the church were postponed for a decade.

After the death of Bishop Isaac Khodabkhsh the synod of Chaldean Bishops selected Fr. Habil Zaia as the archbishop of diocese of Urmi & Salamas. During his bishopric the rage of the Second World War was at its peak and the social and economical difficulties of the period didn’t allow him to do anything about rebuilding of church. This pious, righteous, and educated bishop left 20 thousands Rials in the treasury of the diocese upon his death on 17 March 1951.

 

Renovation of the structure in the mid of the twentieth century

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Bishop Habil Zaia Bet Zaia
 

* Rezayeh: In the Pahlavi era, the name of the city of Urmia was changed to Rezayeh and after Islamic Revolution, the name was restored to the original name" Urmia".     

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