Yes, we have returned and want to share more about our last day in the Middle East which was spent in Amman Jordan. Arriving in Amman at 5:30 am and not leaving until 2:30 am the next morning, we had the blessed opportunity to visit with the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine serving at the clinic in Zarqa.
After a short rest and loving welcome of Sr. Mary Ann Kame, we drove to Zarqa (about 45 min. from Amann) to see the clinic sponsored by the Pontifical Mission that the sisters administer. The clinic is immaculate and truly a testament to their organizational and clinical skills. No visit would be complete without the hospitality of a meal and we enjoyed that with Sisters Najma, Sarah, Afrasia and of course Maryan.
Fr. Carlos, a priest of the Sons of Divine Providence, joined us and also was the driver, as we traveled to meet and talk with Iraqi refugees in Jordan. The first place housed four families of about 21 members living in an apartment that had four rooms, including a separate room for cooking and laundry. Their displacement was compounded by the grief of one of the grandmothers who had lost two young grandsons to violence before leaving Iraq. This housing is unique in that a parishioner donated the use of the house for the refugees. So often, prices are raised when refugees arrive. Any funds that refugees have can be quickly depleted.
Driving back to Amman, we stopped at another area housing Christians. A classmate of Sr. Mary Ann assembled the refugees to come and meet in a central house. Crowded into the main room, people shared their stories and they were many.
- A relatively young woman who has a congenital disease that requires her to now have a hip replacement that she cannot afford; she and her mother are the only living members of her family now.
- Another woman with MS and needing medicine, related that she had been cleared by the UN to move to another country. She sold everything and then found out that she was not on the list.
- A 27 year old mother of 3 girls is going blind and needs a surgery that she cannot afford.
- An elderly woman has been waiting four years to hear news of her abducted husband.
We shared that we wanted to do something for them but were not promising anything. “We know that. Just listen to our story.” After two hours we had to take leave of these very beautiful people.
Sr. Arlene invited all of us to stand and create a circle of prayer around the room. After we prayed the Hail Mary, a young boy appeared with a small censor and blessed each of us with incense. The beautiful scent wafted over each of us as we cupped our hands and received the incense to cover our faces and bodies.
We left the people embracing as many as possible upon our departure. Our hearts were full of the stories, grief, and sorrow of a people who are so deeply connected to their homeland. Community is life for them and all they want is to return to their home of origin which has been the seed of faith for centuries. We return now to the U.S. to try and see if there is anything we can do for our family in Iraq. Yes, we have family in Iraq.
Today Sister Marcelline Koch, OP is in Iraq with a delegation including two other Dominican Sisters to visit the Dominican Sisters in Iraq, Iraqi Christians and Iraqi citizens whose homes were overrun by terrorists causing them to be internally displaced.
Below is her contribution to an article written for Global Sisters report. Click here to read the whole article.
We have family in Iraq: A journey in solidarity and love
Marcelline Koch, OP, Dominican of Springfield, Illinois
The connection to our Dominican sisters and brothers in Iraq was ignited in us during the 1990’s by our brother, Timothy Radcliffe. Since then we have honored the claim that We Have Family in Iraq. As family we have grown in relationship – U.S. and Iraqi Dominicans.
For the past four weeks, all of us have been praying Come, Lord Jesus. We want our God to come among us, and God does, in and through all of us.
Meister Eckhart wrote that “we are all meant to be mothers of God . . . for God is always needing to be born.” As I place these words along-side the question in the Christmas message from the sisters in Iraq – Where and how are we going to be born in this tough crisis in which we live? – I know that I want to be about this birthing process. I want to visit our sisters and brothers, hear their stories, and let them know of our love and concern. As they have been for us in their suffering, I want the presence of our delegation, in the name of the Dominican Family, to be a sign of hope and solidarity.
In Jesus, we experience God’s solidarity with us. And in our solidarity with one another, we draw strength for all our birthing.
Again our Iraqi Dominican Sisters call us to know their reality and raise our voices in solidarity. In the words of Catherine of Siena, patroness of the Dominican sisters in Iraq: “Cry out with a million voices for it is silence that kills the world.”
August 30th 2014
Weakened and Impoverished
We entered the fourth week of displacement. Yet, there is nothing promising at all. The Iraqi government has not done anything to regain the Christian towns back from the IS. Likewise, the Kurdish government, apart from allowing us to enter their province, has not offered any aid, financial or material, leaving us in the streets, and making the church take full responsibility of us all. Thanks to the Church of Iraq in Kurdistan, who opened their halls and centres to provide shelters. Yet, the number of refugees was so large that the Kurdish government had to face the stark reality and open their schools to provide additional shelter for refugees.
We hear a lot about world governments and organizations sending financial aid to Iraq, but the refugee gets the least –we do not know or understand why. People lost almost everything; they cannot even afford to buy milk or formula for their children. What saddens us most is that, only one month ago, these people were the most educated in the country and among those most likely to build a life for themselves and their family, and now they do not have enough money in their pockets to survive the day. Christians became accustomed to investing their money in businesses, shops, fields, buildings…etc, to build their communities. Leaving their towns meant leaving everything they had been working for all their lives. Yet, amidst losing everything, accepting their lost dignity, is the most difficult loss they may experience. Some have found shelter in tents, others in schools, still others in church halls and gardens. They wait to be fed, or given food to cook; elderly are not being taken care of properly; children are living in unhealthy conditions; families have lost their privacy; women are exposed in these places; men have no jobs in a culture where a man is expected to support his families. Refusing to live without dignity, more and more people think of immigrating. Whoever owns a car or gold, sells them to buy a plane ticket out of the country. Needless to say, the buyers in Kurdistan are taking advantage and do not take into consideration the devastation these refugees face.
Christians in Iraq are known for their faithfulness and peaceful way of living among others. They do not believe in violence or in war as a way to solve problems. Now, they feel that they are victims because other religions and political parties are dividing the country on the account of the innocent.
Of course, none of us is a political analyst, but it is obvious that Kurdistan is the only beneficiary: economically, militarily, and provincially, while they were obliged to protect the Nineveh Plain. The Peshmerga pulled out of the plain of Nineveh in no time, without a clear reason, and without warning the civilians; we knew we were living in a war zone, when we trusted that at the very least, in a time of danger, they will warn us but, did not –so how can we trust them now (government and people)?
We still wonder why the world cannot petition the UN to take serious action toward the IS, and save the people from their misery, knowing that the IS is the most dangerous group in the world. Is the world deaf and blind? People are almost convinced that the only way out of this crisis is to immigrate and leave the country, if it is even possible. It is certain, many have reached their breaking point and despair is setting in. Maybe immigrating is the only way to stop living in such a catastrophic humanitarian crisis. People cannot endure this persecution, marginalization, contempt, and rejection anymore. If there is any other way, besides immigration, please let us know. Otherwise, please help people get out of the country, by seeking asylum, according to the UN law.
Dominican Sisters of Saint Catherine of Siena –Iraq.
In an earlier letter it was mentioned that one of our Dominican Sisters (Sr Hanaa) went to fetch her parents from the bank of Al-Khazir River. Receiving a call at 6:00 am on Friday morning the 22nd from her elderly parents, she learned that they were forced out of Karakosh with her blood-sister. A car drove her with her nephew from Ankawa to the last checkpoint leaving Erbil. After that they had to walk for miles to arrive to the river bank; they were lucky that her sister still had a cell phone with her, unlike other people in the caravan. She had to cross two sand ramps that separate Kurdistan from Nineveh Plain. These ramps have been put in the past weeks for protection. Eventually, she found her parents in very bad condition. Her sister was the rod that supported her parents. Upon seeing her parents she learned from her mother that there was a woman and her husband behind on the ground and the man was about to die. There were even three dogs waiting for them to die. Sr. Hanaa gave them some water, and put them in construction carts that they found nearby. They pushed them all the way to Erbil checkpoint where there was a car waiting for them as Sr. Hanaa had called a priest asking for water and help. It took her seven hours to go and bring her family back.
We are enormously proud of our sister, Hanaa, and thank God for her courage. On the next day, when Sr. Hanaa was able to tell her story, it was very sad to see her so overwhelmed because of the horror that she experienced. It was devastating for her that she could not help more people because it was already after 10:00 pm and it was too dark for anyone to go and search for people. She came back hoping that she will be able to go back the next day (Saturday) and help the rest.
On Saturday there was no sign of where the others were. However, people did not give up. A relative of one of those who were lost asked Muslim friends in the area to look for them, but they could not find them until Sunday morning the 24th. When they found them they took them to a house and fed them. They had been without food for two days and they were drinking water from the river while they were lost. The Muslim men who found them were able to connect with the families of these people and guide them to a village called Jamacor to find people. They arrived to Ankawa- Erbil safe on Sunday at 2:00 pm. They lived two horror nights in the open. Dogs and wolfs were watching them all night and the youngest among them (65 years old a brother of one of our sisters) spent the night collecting stones and throwing them at these animals so they would go away.
Translating and editing: Sisters Luma and Nazik OP
Please share this message with the hashtag: #WeHaveFamilyInIraq