November 2, 2018, Adrian, Michigan – Sisters Rose Ann Schlitt, OP, and Nancy Jurecki, OP, are members of a delegation from the U.S. Dominican family that will visit the Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena of Iraq in mid-November. Gloria Escalona, a member of a 2001 delegation and of the Dominican Laity of the St. Albert the Great Province, will round out the delegation.
The delegation was organized by the Iraq Coordinating Committee of the North American Dominican Justice Promoters, in partnership with the Dominican Sisters Conference, and is scheduled to leave on November 14.
The visit takes place more than four years since the Sisters, along with Christians and other religious minorities, fled from the Nineveh Plain on August 6 with the arrival of ISIS. Members of the Iraqi congregation returned to their hometown about a year ago to face much destruction and the challenges of rebuilding their homes and churches. A visit to Iraq that had been planned about a year ago was postponed because of the instability in Iraqi Kurdistan at the time.
“My hopes center upon our Sisters who have undergone immense trials and humiliations as they were violently uprooted from their homes, towns, and ministries by ISIS,” Sister Rose Ann said. “They lived as internal refugees in the Kurdistan region of the north for four years. Now, some have been able to return and literally try to pick up the pieces of their lives, convents, and ministries. They currently struggle at many different levels in their daily lives.”
Sister Rose Ann hopes to be Sister to them during their visit. “Although I am unable to fully understand the depth of their suffering and loss, I will try to be fully and lovingly present to them and to express our solidarity with them in their present and future challenges,” she said. Not knowing the Arabic language, Sister Rose Ann hopes to be able to communicate “through words and gestures, with the help of translation from some of the Iraqi Sisters” who are fluent in English. She is also conscious of the “mix of emotions our presence will surely stir in some, given our country’s role in the current upheaval they are experiencing.”
Sister Nancy, Chief Mission Officer for Providence Health and Services, share Sister Rose Ann’s concerns about the involvement of the U.S. in the war in Iraq. She volunteered to be part of the original delegation because of her deep, personal connections to the people of Iraq. During Desert Storm, she was influenced by a parishioner’s faithful intercessions during daily Mass for the people of Iraq “whose lives and/or quality of life was being taken from them due to the war,” by her nephew’s service during the second war, and by her personal relationship with a Sister from the congregation of St. Catherine of Iraq, with whom she lived.
Sister Nancy also struggles with her inability to understand fully the depths of the suffering of the Iraqi people, but she hopes to listen to their stories and be present to them. “Now, as much as ever, I desire to hear the stories and share the pain of remnant Christian families who are replanting their lives in the land where the Bible began,” she said. “In a sense, I will be fulfilling a desire and bearing witness to a unity that guns cannot destroy.”
Feature photo: Sisters Nancy Jurecki, OP, left, and Rose Ann Schlitt, right.
October 23, 2017, Springfield, Illinois – Three U.S. Dominican women recently cancelled plans for a mid-October visit to Iraq. They now watch with concern as events unfold in the Kurdish-held city of Kirkuk, where on 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, if not impossible,” said Sister Rose Ann Schlitt, OP, a Dominican Sister of Adrian, Michigan, whose congregation has long-standing ties to the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine Siena in Iraq. “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.”
Sister Rose Ann was to travel to Iraq Oct. 11-18 with Dominican Sister Catherine Waters (Caldwell, New Jersey) and Gloria Escalona, a lay Dominican woman from Oakland, California. 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.
ICC members have learned from Dominicans in the volatile region that even amid disruption and uncertainty they continue to carry out their ministries and manage to find hope.
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.
Sisters in other parts of the country also continue their ministries in the aftermath of a three-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 [internally displaced persons]” in Hawija, a village 30 miles southwest of Kirkuk.
“You can say to our Dominican family in the U.S., I count on their prayers,” he wrote in an email to the ICC.
Dominicans in the United States 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 U.S. 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 Marcelline Koch, OP, (Springfield) North American Co-promoter of Justice for the U.S. Dominicans.
News about the delegation can be followed at facebook.com/WeHaveFamilyInIraq2017 and on the Dominican Sisters Conference website: http://dominicansistersconference.org.
Those who would like to support the Dominicans in Iraq may donate to the Sisters at the Springfield Dominican donation page, springfieldop.org/donate, and at www.adriandominicans.org. In addition, a donation of $100 on the website http://www.1000cranesforiraq.org/ helps to fund the ministries of the Dominican Sisters at their refugee camp, and entitles the donor to a gift of a colorful 6x6-inch painting of an origami crane, created by Sister Barbara Cervenka, OP.
The canceled delegation was to have been the fifth sponsored by U.S. Dominicans. There have been other visits to Iraq by individual Dominican women and men from the U.S. in the 18 years since the first delegation in 1999.
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.’”
Sister Catherine and Gloria were members of a previous delegation to Iraq in 2001. Sister Rose Anne lived with one of the members of the Iraqi sisters during a period of ministry in Rome.
The Dominican Justice Promoters represent the Sisters, Friars, and laity of the Dominican Family in the U.S. The DSC represents 6,000 Catholic Sisters and their associates across the United States. Funds for the delegation have been contributed by Dominican Sisters, Friars, and Laity throughout the U.S.
Feature photo: Representatives of the Chaldean Catholic Diocese of Kirkuk distribute aid to displaced families earlier in 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. | Photo credit: Msgr. Yousif Thomas Mirkis, OP, Chaldean Archbishopric of Kirkuk, Iraq.