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November 4, 2016, Adrian, Michigan – As news continues of the liberation of some of the villages of the Mosul area of Iraq, two former Prioress Generals of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, of Iraq, visited Adrian to update the Congregation on the ongoing situation to thank the Adrian Dominican Sisters for their prayers and support.
The brief and moving presentation by Sisters Marie Therese Hanna, OP, and Maria Hanna, OP, took place at the end of the November 1 All Saints Liturgy in St. Catherine Chapel at the Adrian Dominican Motherhouse. The Sisters’ remarks were live-streamed and recorded for future viewing.
“I think you know and are following the news about what is happening in Iraq,” Sister Marie Therese told the assembly. In spite of the liberation of the towns and villages, “all is destroyed – the church, the convents, the houses for the families.” She spoke of the Sisters’ and other refugees’ struggles to understand and accept what had happened. “We need courage to continue, and I know you are with us,” she told the Adrian Dominican Sisters.
The Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Iraq have been refugees for two years and four months, since ISIS came to the Nineveh Plain in August 2014 and forced the Sisters and ten of thousands of Christians and other minorities to flee. As refugees, the Dominican Sisters spent their energies bringing support and hope to the rest of the refugee community through schools, health clinics, and religious services.
Her central message was one of gratitude for the prayers and support of the Adrian Dominican Sisters and of the U.S. Dominican family. “Thank you … for being in our life to support us and to allow us to continue our mission there.”
Sister Marie Therese noted that, when she and Sister Maria Hanna had first come to Adrian 11 years ago, they felt like strangers. “But when we entered the chapel and shared in prayer, all this has changed,” she added. “We feel we are in our family.”
The two communities of Dominican Sisters have enjoyed close ties during the past 11 years since a group of Dominican Sisters from Iraq came to the United States to live and minister with Adrian Dominican Sisters and to earn advanced degrees to better serve their people in Iraq.
Sister Patricia Siemen, OP, Prioress of the Adrian Dominican Sisters, noted how fitting it was “on this Feast of All Saints that we have two of our living saints among us,” representing the other Sisters in their community.
From Iraq, Sister Clara Nas, OP, current Prioress General of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine, sent a letter November 1 to the greater Dominican family, updating them on the status of the Sisters there. Noting the Sisters’ joy at the eventual recapture of their villages and towns on the Nineveh Plain, Sister Clara also noted the destruction of the towns.
“We knew that when we left, our towns would not be the same when we return,” she wrote. “The reality is that ISIS has used our houses to hide tunnel entrances and store weapons. Additionally, they planted bombs in houses, ready to explode as soon as the door opens, and mines are everywhere in the land.”
The Sisters and other refugees are “living in a liminal space,” with some wanting to leave their country and others wanting to return to rebuild their homes. “We are just waiting for the ‘decree of Cyrus’ (that allowed the Jews to return from exile) to be announced again, allowing us to return and build our churches and houses.”
For more information on the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, of Iraq, and on ways to help them in their ministry to their refugee community, visit 1,000 Cranes for Iraq.
Feature photo: Sisters Maria Hanna, OP, left, and Marie Therese Hanna, OP, former Prioresses of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena of Erbil, Iraq, extend greetings and give an update to the assembly during the All Saints Liturgy in St. Catherine Chapel on November 1. Photo by Melinda P. Ziegler
October 31, 2016, Manila, the Philippines – “We are one with you in fighting for your ancestral land and your right to self-determination ... and we believe what is yours is yours and you deserve to live a normal and peaceful life. Courage! God is listening and watching up there...”
These words, posted on the Facebook page of Adrian Dominican Sister Jolyn “Jules” Dungo, OP, of the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Our Lady of Remedies Mission Chapter, capture some of the feelings of Sister Jules and other Sisters who have been accompanying some 3,000 indigenous peoples from the Philippines since October 13.
Four Adrian Dominican Sisters from the Philippines have been taking part in Lakbayan ng Pambansang Minorya. The event, from October 13-28, was a protest by the indigenous and minority peoples of the Philippines to draw attention to the exploitation of their lands and the marginalization they face as native and minority peoples. During this time, the protestors took up camp at the University of the Philippines in Manila while they participated in a number of planned activities.
Adrian Dominican Sisters standing in support of this national protest were Sister Jules; Sister Antonette Lumbang, OP; Sister Salvacion Valenzuela, OP; and Sister Meliza Arquillano, a novice. Members of the native Aeta people, whom Sister Jules ministers with, also participated in the event.
The Sisters handed out donations of food, clothing, and school supplies and listened to the stories of the indigenous and minority peoples about their experiences.
“With us in the conversations with other indigenous groups are some Aetas from [the region of] Pampanga, who are gaining a lot of inspiration in joining the Lakbayan 2016,” Sister Antonette wrote in an email. “They are inspired to continue with the struggle for their own future and those generations yet to come.”
As Lakbayan 2016 came to an end, Sister Zenaida Nacpil, OP, Chapter Prioress of Our Lady of Remedies Mission Chapter, reported on the opposition that many of the protestors faced.
“The marchers were subjected to different harassments,” she said. “Two leaders in their native places were killed, though not with the marchers. In one place, [the protestors] were dispersed by water hoses from fire trucks.” In another incident, she reported, a police officer drove back and forth among the protestors, almost hitting some of them, she said. “May our God of Peace end this violence against peaceful rallies of people most vulnerable to harassment and whose ancestral lands are plundered and destroyed.”
The indigenous and minority peoples make up about 15 to 20 percent of the population of the Philippines. They have struggled against the invading regimes of Spain and the United States – which still has a military presence in the Philippines – but still suffer from marginalization and oppression. Many hope that President Rodrigo Duterte, who has recently taken office, will fulfill his commitments to right the injustices that they have endured for years.
Lakbayan 2016 included a variety of special activities, including cultural celebrations and lobbying and dialogues at the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, the Department of Justice, the U.S. Embassy, mining companies, and the Philippine Stock Exchange.
Some of the events brought signs of hope. During an October 26 address to the Lakbayan 2016 participants, consultants of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) said the organization backed the right of the indigenous peoples to self-determination in their negotiations with the national government.
The indigenous and minority peoples tried the U.S. in a tribal court, held at the Bonifacio Shrine in Manila. After hearing of incidents of genocidal attacks by U.S. forces, three professional judges found the U.S. government guilty of atrocities.
Lakbayan 2016 is one of many recent examples of indigenous peoples striving to reclaim their rights. Similar efforts have taken place during the School of the Americas (SOA) Watch’s Convergence at the Border and at Standing Rock, North Dakota, where members of the Sioux Tribe are attempting to block the construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline.
Feature photo: Members of Our Lady of Remedies Chapter posing with the indigenous peoples at Lakbayan 16 are, from left, Sisters Antonette Lumbang, OP, Jolyn Dungo, OP, Salvacion Valenzuela, OP, and novice Sister Meliza Arquillano.