June 13, 2019, Adrian, Michigan – The Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, in Iraq, have returned to their community on the Nineveh Plain after years of internal displacement in Northern Iraq – and are now ministering to people there. But, as they rebuild their lives they depend on prayers from the Dominican family.
That was the message that Sister Clara Nas, OP, Prioress of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, brought to Sisters in the Adrian Dominican Congregation during a recent presentation in Adrian.
Sister Clara was in Adrian during her first trip to the United States to visit Sister Raghad Saeed, OP, in Adrian for the summer during a break from her doctoral studies in nano- technology at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Sister Raghad translated Sister Clara’s talk.
The Sisters – and thousands of other Christians and religious minorities – were forced out of their homes on the Nineveh Plain in 2014 when ISIS arrived. While living in northern Iraq, the Sisters ministered in the refugee community by establishing schools and clinics, and providing spiritual support and presence.
Sister Clara said she met with the General Council of her community many times to plan their return home, after it was liberated from ISIS. “It was difficult to make the decision because of the unstable condition in Nineveh,” she said. Ultimately, they decided to return to Qaraqosh and other cities in the area, where most of the Christians were returning.
“Through all things, we are women of faith and hope, so the Sisters continue to accompany our Christian people in this area, to serve the people spiritually and morally, to live close to them and live with them in solidarity,” Sister Clara said.
They found their homes, convents, and churches destroyed or severely damaged and are rebuilding their lives. “We needed to work, fix, and repair what ISIS destroyed and burned,” Sister Clara said. The rebuilding is taking place with the help of Christian humanitarian organizations and the Dominican family in the United States and Europe.
Because their convent was destroyed, the Sisters moved into a small house in the Kurdistan area and other small convents in the areas where they minister. Among other ministries, the Sisters opened a kindergarten in Erbil and a primary school in Ankara. They continue to minister in Baghdad – both in a hospital and in a school with an enrollment of 560 Christian and Muslim students.
To answer a question about what U.S. citizens should do in light of a possible war with Iran, Sister Clara asked that they write to government officials, encouraging them not to bomb Iran. Iraq would be in the middle of such a war. “We need a simple thing – to live in peace,” Sister Clara said. “Just leave us to live in peace and that is all that we need. We can help each other and we can build again, but we need a safe area – not a war zone.”
Sister Clara also asked the U.S. Dominican family and the people of the United States to pray for them. “Please continue to pray for us because we need that, and we are so grateful for your help, for your support, for your solidarity with us.”
As a tangible sign of their gratitude, Sister Clara presented the Adrian Dominican Sisters with an altar cloth, hand-sewn and embroidered by the Dominican Sisters from Iraq. The altar cloth was placed on the altar in St. Catherine Chapel for the Feast of Pentecost on Sunday, June 9, 2019.
Watch the entire video of Sister Clara’s presentation below.
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