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May 24, 2018, Hinckley, Ohio – A township in north-central Ohio seems a long way from Mosul, Iraq, or from the refugee camps in northern Iraq. But these distant areas were recently connected by a Japanese girl who folded paper cranes, a Dominican artist and art teacher who painted paper cranes, an elementary school art teacher, and a class of compassionate and innovative fifth-grade students.

This connection can now be seen in three small paintings of folded paper cranes displayed in the library of Hinckley Elementary School in Hinckley, Ohio. The cranes were brought to the school through the innovation of a fifth-grade art class that raised more than their goal of 1,000 quarters – a total of nearly $364 – from their classmates as a donation to support the work of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Mosul, Iraq. 

Katie Hatch Massaro, the art teacher at Hinckley Elementary School in Hinckley, Ohio, has for 10 years been teaching her students the story of 1,000 paper cranes folded by Sadako Saski, a 12-year-old Japanese girl who was exposed to the atomic bomb at Hiroshima and died of leukemia 10 years later. The heart-wrenching story of this young girl inspired Sister Barbara Cervenka, OP, to create 1,000 small paintings of paper cranes, which can be adopted for a donation of $100. The donations have helped the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena who fled Mosul with hundreds of thousands of their neighbors on August 6, 2014, with the arrival of ISIS warriors. During their time in a refugee camp in northern Iraq, the Sisters opened schools and clinics to serve the needs of their fellow refugees.

Many of the Sisters and other refugees have since returned to their homes after ISIS was expelled, but now face the challenges of rebuilding their homes and churches that were destroyed. 

“I’ve been teaching about paper cranes for 10 years,” said Katie, a student of Sister Barbara’s and a 2007 graduate of Siena Heights University. She teaches her fifth-grade classes the story of Sadako and how to fold the paper cranes. In recent years, she has followed this lesson up with the story of Sister Barbara’s project. “We talked about what it meant to be a refugee,” she said. They understood that the Sisters and neighbors were forced out of their homes, and that the donations would help the people. 

Katie didn’t initiate the idea of the class making a donation for a crane in support of the refugees. “I wanted the kids to be self-motivated” and to come up with the idea on their own, she said. 

Her wait came to an end this semester when a student suggested making a donation for one of the paintings, Katie recalled. Students discussed the idea during lunch and a small group approached her. “I worked with them through the whole process,” she said, by encouraging them to find a way that they could raise the money on their own. Students decided to collect 1,000 quarters from among their fifth-grade classmates. 

“The kids assigned jobs to everyone in the class and even built their own website,” Katie recalled. They created a presentation for the principal, James Carpenter, and the Parent-Teacher Organization to secure permission and garner support for the project. Just two weeks after they presented the project to their classmates, they had exceeded their goal. Because they wanted to add framing to their order, they intended to order two cranes, but the PTO suggested they order three – and offered to supplement the money that the students had raised.

The process did not end there, Katie added. The class took a vote to choose the cranes paintings they wanted, choosing green cranes to match the school’s color. 

The students later reflected on the impact that the project had on them. “It was tough and challenging, but it was worth it,” one student said. Others spoke of the impact they hoped the project will have on the Sisters in Iraq and the people they serve. “It was a good opportunity to help people and inspire other students once we’ve left Hinckley Elementary School,” one student said. Another made the connection to the story of the 1,000 cranes folded in Japan and to Sister Barbara. “The inspiration chain goes from Sadako to her classmates to the 1,000 Crane Project for Iraq to us at Hinckley Elementary,” the student said. “We hope it keeps going!”

Katie is very proud of her fifth-grade class, which will graduate at the end of May from Hinckley Elementary School and move on to middle school. “I’ve always seen leadership and initiative in a lot of them,” she said. “It was a privilege to be able to walk them through this process and watch them stretch their wings for the first time.” Noting that she had taught art to that class since they were in kindergarten, she added, “It’s an honor to see them come as kindergartners and leave so grown up, young teenagers.”

Katie hopes all of her students benefit from their study of art. “I want them to leave me knowing that art can make a difference, that art is part of our culture. It’s part of our identity,” she said. “I want them to have an appreciation for art.”

Fifth-grade students from Hinckley Elementary School, Hinckley, Ohio, pose with the three cranes that they ordered with their donation to the 1,000 Cranes for Iraq Project. Photo Courtesy of Hinckley Elementary School

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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.



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