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Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014 12:01 am

A letter of anguish from Dominican sisters in Iraq

Many Springfield residents will be familiar with the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Sienna in Iraq because of their association with the Dominican Sisters of Springfield. Over a period of 15 years, U.S. Dominican congregations, the Springfield Dominicans among them, have developed an enduring bond with their Iraqi sisters. As the crisis in Iraq unfolds, the Iraqi Dominican sisters, about 125 of them, are serving on the front lines. There are at least three Iraqi sisters who lived, studied and prayed with Dominicans in the U.S. who, along with the rest of their community, are now exhausting themselves physically and emotionally as they attempt to meet the basic needs for food, clothing and shelter for the estimated 75,000 displaced persons in the Kurdish cities of Erbil and Dohuk and in villages nearby. This letter is the latest in a series of letters sent by those sisters to the U.S. Dominicans. The patron of the Iraq Dominican community, the 14th century Dominican saint Catherine Benincasa, once admonished her followers that they must “cry out as if you had a million voices, it is silence that kills the world.” Here is the cry of her spiritual descendants:

Aug. 23, 2014 – 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 centers. 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, 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.

What has happened in our Christian towns that have been evacuated is even worse. The IS [ISIS] forced out of their homes those who did not leave their towns up to the night of Aug. 6. Yesterday, 72 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. We 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. Another woman said that she was separated from her husband and children, and she knows nothing about them. Also, a three-year-old daughter was taken from her mother’s lap, and she also knows nothing about her.

As for our community, we know that our convent in Tel Kaif is being used as an IS headquarters. 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 flags. That is not only in Karakosh and Tel Kaif. In Baqofa, one of our sisters heard the situation was calm, so she went back with a few people to get her medicine. She found the convent had been searched; everything was open and strewn across the rooms.

People are losing their patience. They miss everything in their hometowns: churches, church bells, streets and neighborhoods. 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 a 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

Readers may send financial contributions to the Dominican Sisters in Iraq by going to https://www.adriandominicans.org/Donate/index.html. Click “Other” and designate “Iraq.” Or they my mail a check marked “Iraq” to Adrian Dominican Sisters, 1257 East Siena Heights Drive, Adrian, Michigan 49221.

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