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.
August 7, 2017, Erbil, Iraq – Sister Clara Nacy, Prioress of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Iraq, wrote to sisters and brothers in the Dominican family, and to their friends, on the anniversary of her community’s flight from ISIS on August 6, 2014. Since then, the community has been internally displaced in northern Iraq, striving each day to meet the material and spiritual needs of their fellow refugees.
August 6, 2017
Feast of Transfiguration
Dear brothers, sisters and friends,
It has been three years since we were displaced and you have been accompanying us through your prayers to endure the days of turmoil. During these years, we cried, screamed, wondered, questioned God and our faith and also laughed and found moments of hope, love and gratefulness to our Lord, the church and all individuals who supported us in so many different ways. On August 6, 2014, we entered a tunnel that we did not know when we would get out of it. In fact, some days we thought we would never see the light.
Three years ago we left our homes at night to the unknown. We started a journey of displacement, exile and questioning. But, to speak the truth, despite everything, we always dreamed of going back and finding our houses safe and sound, just as we left them. We strongly wished that we would return and kindle our candles for prayers, harvest our grapes, and read our books. We hoped even when we knew that it was our neighbors who betrayed us and did us harm even before ISIS did.
That was the case until the fall of 2016, when Iraqi forces started the military operations to liberate the Plain of Nineveh. God showered us with His graces as our towns were liberated one after the other; ISIS was defeated and the Plain of Nineveh seems to have been liberated.
When we first visited our Christian towns, we were so much stunned by the damage we saw. It was badly painful to see all that overwhelming destruction. We immediately realized that it was not the military forces or smart weapons that caused all that damage, but hate. Hate leaves both oppressed and oppressor deeply wounded. Only God knows how much love we need to heal these deep wounds.
Walking sluggishly in our Christian towns, we wondered remembering the word of God to prophet Ezekiel, “Son of man, can these bones live?” and we found ourselves answering him, “Sovereign LORD, you alone know,” (Ezekiel 37:3). Inspired by the stories and experiences of biblical characters, we believe that God is able to raise us again in a new way.
Today we see the marvelous work of God. There are some signs of hope. The rebuilding process, although slow, has started and some families have returned to their homes. In Batnaia, a town that was 90 percent destroyed, a process of cleaning has started. To Telskuf and Qaraqush, Christian towns, some families have returned and there are families returning every week.
There are over 600 families today in Telskuf and 450 in Qaraqush. Telskuf was much less destroyed than Qaraqush. Although in Qaraqush the amount of destruction is estimated to be 30 percent, rebuilding is not easy and the NGOs that have afforded to help with rebuilding are not enough compared to the destruction. There are 7,000 homes in Qaraqush and 2,400 of them are completely burned and another 4,400 are partly burned and destroyed. In addition, 116 houses are completely destroyed.
The hope is to repair as many houses as possible before the beginning of the school year in September, but of course there is a problem with the funding. So far only the church and some NGOs are doing the rebuilding.
Our sisters are back to Telskuf and we hope to find a place by the beginning of the year and will start a kindergarten. Soon also we will return to Qaraqush. Since our convent in Qaraqush is partially destroyed, we repaired a family home for us to live in it until we move back to our convent. Also, the orphanage was totally burned but we found a place for the sisters and girls to move too in Qaraqush.
As you probably already have heard, Mosul has been liberated, but the amount of destruction is overwhelming in every field. It will take years to be fixed, but there is nothing impossible with God.
Of course, it is not easy to decide whether to go back to Mosul or not. Some people still try to understand what the will of God is. If ISIS is defeated that does not mean that the Plain of Nineveh is entirely cleansed from that mentality. However, we as community decided to return with our people, and pray and hope all people will have the courage to go back to their hometowns and be able to start from the beginning again. God is with us and will not leave us.
We thank you for all the support you have shown us. Please pray for us as we start this new phase of our lives. Know of our gratitude and prayers for you.
Feature photo: Shrine of prophet Nahum in Alqosh, Iraq. Photo by Sister Frdos Zora, OP