Letter from our Dominican Sisters in Iraq

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The Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Iraq have been keeping the Dominican family up-to-date on their situation via letters. They have asked that these letters be shared as widely as possible to try to bring help to the situation in Iraq.

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This is the most recent letter, dated 23 August 2014:

Dear all,

We continue to share our daily struggle with you, hoping that our cry will reach the world. We are like the blind man of Jericho (Mark 10:46-52), who had nothing to express himself, but his voice, asking Jesus for mercy. Although some people ignored his voice, others listened, and helped him. We count on people, who will listen!

We entered the third week of displacement. Things are moving very slowly in terms of providing shelter, food, and necessities for the people. There are still people living in the streets. There are still no organized camps outside of schools that are used as refugee centres. An unfinished, three story building has also been used as a refugee centre. For privacy reasons, families have made rooms using UNHCR plastic sheets in these unfinished buildings. These places look like stables. We all wonder, is there any end in sight? We appreciate all efforts that have been made to provide aid to the displaced people. However, please note, that providing food and shelter is not the only essential thing we need. Our case is much bigger. We are speaking about two minorities (CHristian and Yezedians), who lost their land, their homes, their belongings, their jobs, their money, some have been separated from their families and loved ones, and all are persecuted because of their religion.

Our church leaders are doing their best to solve the issue. They have been meeting with political leaders, with the President of Iraq and Kurdistan, but initiatives and actions of these political leaders are really slow and modest. Actually, all political meetings have led to nothing. Until now, there has been no decision made about the current situation of the displaced minorities. For this reason, trust in the political leaders has diminished, if it exists, at all. People cannot tolerate it anymore. It is too heavy of a burden. Yesterday, a young man expressed that he would rather die than live, without dignity. People feel that their dignity has been stripped from them. We are being persecuted because of our religion. None of us ever thought we would live in refugee camps because of that.

It is hard to believe that this is happening in the 21st century. We wonder what is exactly happening. Is it another plan or agreement to subdivide Iraq? If this is true, by whom and why? Why are the events of dividing the Middle East, that happened in 1916, being repeated now? At that time it was a political issue and innocent people paid for it. It is apparent that there are sinfully, cunning people dividing Iraq, now. In 1916, we lost seven of our sisters, many Christians died, and more were scattered. Is it just circumstance we face this division again, or is it deliberate?

However, the struggle is not only in the camps, with the displaced people. What has happened in our Christian towns that have been evacuated is even worse. This IS forced out of their homes those who did not leave their towns up to the night of August 6th. Yesterday, seventy-two people were driven out of Karakosh. However, not all of them arrived; those who arrived last night were in miserable condition. They had to cross Al-Khazi river (a tributary to the Great Zab) on foot because the bridge had been destroyed. There are still quite a few on the side of the riverbank. e do not know when they will make it to Erbil. It depends on the situation and negotiations between the Peshmerga and the IS. There are some people who went to fetch the elderly and the unable to walk. One of our sisters went to bring her parents, and told her story. Another woman, said that she was separated from her husband and children, and she knows nothing about them; they are probably among the others who are on the other bank, or they might be among the hostages taken by the IS. Also, a three-year old daughter was taken from her mother’s lap, and she also knows nothing about her. We do not know why the IS are sending people out of Karakosh, but we have been hearing from those who just arrived, that IS are bringing barrels into Karakosh and the contents are unknown.

In addition, we know of four Christian families who are are stuck in Sinjar for over three weeks; they are probably running out of food and water. If they do not get help, they will die there. At the present, there is no contact with them, and there is no way to negotiate with the IS.

As for our community, we know that our convent in Tel Kaif is being used as an IS headquarter. Also, we know that they had entered our convent in Karakosh. Those that recently arrived have stated that all the holy pictures, icons, and statues are being destroyed. Crosses have been taken off the top of churches and they have been replaced with the IS flag. That is not only in Karakosh and Tel Kaif. In Baqofa, one of our sisters hear the situation was calm, so she went back with few people, to get her medicine. She found the convent had been searched; everything was open and strewn across the rooms. The minute they entered the convent, three bombs hit the town. They left immediately.

Apart from what is happening to the Christians, yesterday, Friday the 22nd, a Shiite suicide bomber and gunmen attacked Sunni mosque of Abou Mussab in village under Iraqi government control in Diyala province leaving 68 dead. It is heartbreaking to hear about people get killed while praying. In terms of Media and news release, this massacre overshadowed what is happening to the Christians in the Nineveh Plain. We are afraid that our struggle will become only our own affairs, and that it will not have impact on the world anymore.

At last, we have to say that people are losing their patience. They miss everything in their hometowns: churches, church bells, streets, and neighborhood. It is heartbreaking for them to hear that their homes have been robbed. Although they love their towns, most people are now thinking of leaving the country so they can live in dignity and have future for their children. It is hard to have hope in Iraq, or to trust the leadership of the country.

Please, keep us in your prayers.
Dominican Sisters of Saint Catherine of Siena-Iraq.

PS Please share the letter with other people. Let the world hear the cry of the poor and the innocent.

If you are looking for a way to send aid to Iraq, the Order has set up a system through our Province in France. Help can be sent to that Province which will ensure that it is used to help the communities in Iraq as well as Iraqi families who are refugees elsewhere. Contributions should be identified as “For Iraq” and can be sent to the following bank account:

         PROVINCE DOMINICAINE DE FRANCE
         DOMICILIATION: HSBC FR AGENCE CENTRALE
         IBAN: FR 76 3005 6001 4801 4854 2857 016
         Code B.I.C.: CCFRFRPP

Previous letters can be found here:
17 August 2014
8 August 2014
4 August 2014

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This Old House–75th Anniversary of the Dedication of our Monastery and Chapel!

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Copy of an original souvenir card of the September 15th dedication.

If you know where to look as you come up the monastery driveway you will see the cornerstone with the date November, 1925. During that year, (the groundbreaking had been on Annunciation Day the same year) hopes were high as plans for a 15 altar basilica honoring our Lady of the Rosary were underway.

Soon it became apparent that construction would have to come to a temporary halt until a building debt of $120,000 was liquidated. What the Sisters didn’t know was that the Great Depression was right around the corner and that temporary meant 12 years!

In 1937, the Nuns received permission from Archbishop Thomas Walsh to resume building but with the caveat that the entire monastery and church had to be built on the existing foundation (what was the crypt chapel) and within a specified budget. Thanks to the resourcefulness of Mother Mary of Jesus Crucified and the new architect, Luigi Vivoli, the first stipulation was possible but the second, that of the limited budget proved not to be. There were tensions and historians now surmise that Archbishop Walsh’s desire to finally finish the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart may have played a part in his stipulations to the Community.

Finally, however, in God’s Providence the monastery and church were completed in 1939. On Trinity Sunday, June 4, 1939, the community, still in the old house, received a call from the Archbishop’s secretary, Monsignor John Delaney just as they were sitting down for supper. He would be over in a few moments to bless the new building!

So, supper was left to get cold as the nuns grabbed their cappas and made their way through the fence to the new building. Because of the strict laws of enclosure at that time, for most of them this was the first time in the new monastery. Monsignor Delaney arrived and he was in a hurry. The Nuns followed him throughout the house breathlessly responding, “Ora pro nobis! Ora pro nobis!” to the Litany! The ceremony over, it was about 8:30 when they put away their cappas and heated up their supper! A few days later the nuns began the long-desired move into what seemed like an enormous building.

The Community still planned a formal dedication ceremony and it took some effort to convince Archbishop Walsh, who was a bit of a curmudgeon, to agree. Finally, on September 15, 1939, Archbishop Walsh officiated at the solemn dedication of the Chapel. In his closing address he said,
“I, personally, publicly, and officially invite all the clergy, the friends and
benefactors, and all the people to attend all the public services held here at
all times, and even to come here to make private visits to Our Lord. Come here often, come every day to visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.”

We thank our Lord for the gift of 75 years in this monastery and pray that He will be loved and adored here for many, many more years!

Originally posted 5 years ago for the 70th anniversary.