Regional instability causes delay, and reignites Springfield Dominicans’ commitment to their Iraqi Dominican Family

“Say to our family in the US, I count on their prayers,” says Dominican archbishop of Kirkuk

Three U.S. Dominican women recently cancelled plans for a mid-October visit to Iraq and now watch with concern as events unfold in the Kurdish-held city of Kirkuk, where on Monday, October 16, Iraqi government forces seized oil fields and a military base in response to the Kurdish region’s vote for independence last month.

“We knew the moment the referendum passed that traveling to Iraqi would be difficult for the delegates, if not impossible,” said Springfield Dominican Sister Marcelline Koch, who is justice promoter for the Dominicans in North American and has traveled to Iraq previously. She was not scheduled to be on this delegation. “Now we watch once again with dismay as we pray and hope this recent military action will not bring more violence and death to the people of Iraq.”

The decision to postpone the trip was made by the Iraq Coordinating Committee (ICC) after hearing from the sisters in Iraq that it was not feasible to travel to or within the country at this time. The ICC is a committee of the North American Dominican Justice Promoters. Sister Marcelline and Sister Beth Murphy, communications director for the Springfield Dominicans, are committee members.

The sisters have heard from their Dominican sisters and brothers in the volatile region that even amid disruption and uncertainty they continue to carry out their ministries and manage to find hope.

Representatives of the Chaldean Catholic diocese of Kirkuk distribute aid to displaced families earlier this month (October) in Hawija. The center for internally displaced families is 30 miles southwest of the diocesan center where Dominican Friar Yousif Thomas Mirkis is the archbishop. In spite of the challenges Iraq faces Archbishop Mirkis is hopeful about Iraq’s future. (Photo credit: Msgr. Yousif Thomas Mirkis, OP, Chaldean Archbishopric of Kirkuk, Iraq.)

Representatives of the Chaldean Catholic diocese of Kirkuk distribute aid to displaced families earlier this month (October) in Hawija. The center for internally displaced families is 30 miles southwest of the diocesan center where Dominican Friar Yousif Thomas Mirkis is the archbishop. In spite of the challenges Iraq faces Archbishop Mirkis is hopeful about Iraq’s future. (Photo credit: Msgr. Yousif Thomas Mirkis, OP, Chaldean Archbishopric of Kirkuk, Iraq.)

Sister Luma Khudher, OP, council member for the Iraq congregation, said the Dominican sisters in Kirkuk were safe going about their ministry and study. Though community leadership asked them to return to Erbil after Iraqi government forces moved into the area, they decided to remain in the city because traveling through the crowded checkpoints could be dangerous. Sister Luma lived and study with the Springfield Dominicans 2002-2012.

Sisters in other parts of the country also continue their ministries in the aftermath of a 3-year displacement and occupation by ISIS. Until this week it was uncertain what would become of the sisters’ school in the Erbil suburb of Ankawa for children displaced by ISIS. They’ve received word from the Kurdish government that they will be allowed to reopen as long as they do not accept any new students or start a new first grade. A handful of sisters have returned to the village of Qaraqosh and are preparing school for the children whose families have returned there. Other sisters intend to return to other villages and resume their ministries as they are able.

The Chaldean archbishop of Kirkuk, Dominican friar Yousif Thomas Mirkis, also communicated with the U.S. Dominicans about his relief that the situation in his city remained calm. “After the Mass, I asked the people in the church to pray, that God help us to avoid any kind of bloodshed,” he said, adding that he feels they avoided what could have been a much worse situation. “Now we have less anxiety and we look forward with hope.”

As a reminder that the effects of ISIS’ incursion into Iraq in 2014 are long-lasting and systemic, he said “We are trying to do our best to heal the wounds, helping the victims: children, women, old persons, feeding the IDP’s” in Hawija, a village 30 miles southwest of Kirkuk.

“You can say to our family in the US, I count on their prayers,” he wrote in an email to the US Dominicans.

Dominicans in the US are determined to keep their fellow citizens aware of what is happening to their family in Iraq. “While there will be no physical presence of US Dominicans in Iraq for the time being, we are still committed to our solidarity with our Iraqi sisters and brothers and the people of all faiths they serve,” said Sister Beth Murphy.

News about the delegation can be followed at the ICC’s Facebook page.

Those who would like to financially support the Dominicans in Iraq may donate here now.

The three Dominicans who were to travel to Iraq Oct. 11-18 are Sister Rose Ann Schlitt (Adrian, Mich.), Sister Catherine Waters (Caldwell, N.J.), and Gloria Escalona, a lay Dominican woman from Oakland, Calif. The decision to postpone the trip was made by the Iraq Coordinating Committee (ICC) after hearing from the sisters in Iraq that it was not feasible to travel to or within the country at this time. The ICC is a committee of the North American Dominican Justice Promoters.

The cancelled delegation was to have been the fifth sponsored by U.S. Dominicans. Sister Beth Murphy has visited the Iraqi Dominican family on four occasions, the last time in 2010. Sister Marcelline went in 2015.

The bond between members of the Order of Preachers in the U.S. and Iraq began when Sister Margaret Galiardi, OP (Amityville) heard a report about the impact of draconian UN sanctions imposed on Iraq before the First Gulf War in 1990. “One of the sisters told [then-Master of the Order] Timothy Radcliff ‘Sanctions make us feel that we have been forgotten even by God,’” Sister Margaret recalled. “It was Christmas, the time to celebrate the ‘the Word-made-flesh’ in the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.” Sister Margaret remembers coming to the realization “We have to go there in the flesh and by our presence say ‘God does not forget anyone.’”

The Dominican Justice Promoters represent the sisters, friars, and laity of the Dominican Family in the U.S. Funds for the delegation have been contributed by Dominican Sisters, Friars, and Laity throughout the U.S.