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September 28, 2017, Ann Arbor, Michigan – Sister Barbara Cervenka, OP, completed an artistic journey of accompaniment September 24 when she finished painting her 1,000th image of an origami crane. 

But the accompaniment of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena of Iraq continues for Sister Barbara and for the Dominican Family. The Iraqi Sisters continue to live as internally displaced refugees with tens of thousands of other residents who fled their homes in the Nineveh Plains in August 2014 after the arrival of ISIS. Donations to Sister Barbara Cervenka’s 1,000 Cranes for Iraq Project help to fund the Iraqi Sisters’ ministry within the refugee community. 

An artist, Sister Barbara made a New Year’s Resolution in January 2015 to paint every day. It was the plight of the Dominican Sisters and the other refugees that gave direction to her resolution. 

“I thought keeping that resolution would be easier if I painted some small things,” Sister Barbara explained.  “One day I picked up an origami crane and painted that. When I did the second, I remembered the [legend of the] thousand cranes. I had been thinking about the situation in Iraq and wondering what I could do for it when the idea came to me.”

The Japanese tradition of folding 1,000 origami cranes for peace and health was popularized after World War II. Sadako Sasaki, a Japanese girl who had been exposed to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima at the age of 2, contracted leukemia 10 years later. She began the process of folding 1,000 cranes for her recovery and for world peace, but lost her battle with cancer. Since then, the tradition of 1,000 cranes has been associated with efforts for world peace.

Sister Barbara’s 1,000 Cranes for Iraq Project gives people their choice of a crane painting for a donation of $100. Since its launch in August 2015, the project has raised more than $40,000 to help the Dominican Sisters with their ministry to the refugees.

The project has shaped Sister Barbara’s daily life since January 15, 2015, when the first crane was painted. Since then, Sister Barbara has gone into the basement of her home after dinner every day to paint a crane. She has also taken the project with her on vacation and during other times of travel. “It’s a discipline, but it’s also a pleasure,” Sister Barbara said.

Her involvement in the project “has made me much more conscious of the situation of people all over the world who have been displaced,” she said. “I’m much more in tune to the news and more aware of the people who have been displaced by hurricanes and other disasters.”

Sister Barbara said the project has also helped to build a community of people who are concerned about the plight of the Iraqi refugees and other suffering people. Sisters Suzanne Schreiber, OP, and Janet Wright, OP – also Adrian Dominican artists – have participated in the project. Sister Suzanne photographed live cranes as well as people with the origami cranes, and Sister Janet has painted living cranes. Their artwork is also available to purchase from the 1,000 Cranes for Iraq Project.

Part of the challenge has been to paint 1,000 distinctive cranes, using the same origami crane model but with different still life settings and lighting each time, Sister Barbara said. “Every day I just go down and paint. There’s certainly a lot of repetition and continuity, but every day I’m a little different,” she said, explaining that that fact leads her paintings to be slightly different from one day to the next. 

Sister Barbara Cervenka, OP, with the 1,000th crane, completed on September 24. She began her 1,000 Cranes for Iraq Project in January 2015 to support the work of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Iraq, who fled their home from ISIS in August 2014.

Sister Barbara is gratified by the number of people who have made donations of $100 to help the refugees. “It’s not because they want a painting of a crane, but because they really are aware, too, of the terrible situation that so many people are facing,” she said. “That’s creating a little community of awareness.” 

But Sister Barbara admits that the almost three-year journey hasn’t always been easy. “The challenge was just the sheer number,” she said. “I never realized how much 1,000 is until I got into the middle and realized how many more cranes I had to paint.” But, with the interest and encouragement of others, she was able to keep up with the discipline. “That’s why I feel it was more like a community project than just mine,” she said. Being part of this effort has been a privilege, she added.

Many of the crane paintings are still available for selection and adoption with a donation to the 1,000 Cranes for Iraq project. Framing is available for an additional $35. The entire collection can be viewed at www.1000cranesforiraq.org/donate.

An exhibit of available cranes will be featured at the Klemm Gallery of Siena Heights University from Monday, October 9, 2017, through Friday, November 3, 2017. Gallery hours are 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and noon to 4:00 p.m. Sunday. A reception with Sister Barbara at the Klemm Gallery is from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Friday, October 13, 2017. 

In the meantime, Sister Barbara helps to keep up the good habit she developed of painting every day. “I don’t know what I’ll do next, but I’d like to keep painting,” she said. “This has motivated me to go down into the studio every day. I’d like to keep up that momentum.”  


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August 5, 2016, Adrian, Michigan – “There’s always hope, and there’s always support from different people. You’re never going to be left alone because you are loved by God and by others.”

That’s the message that Sister Nadiya Shamees, OP, a Dominican Sister from the Congregation of St. Catherine, of Iraq, hopes to bring to the people in the world during her month-long visit to the United States. Sister Nadiya spent a few days in Adrian, Michigan, visiting the Adrian Dominican Sisters: meeting with the Congregation’s General Council, speaking to the Sisters before daily Mass, and visiting with friends. Much of her month in the United States will involve study, as well as rest and time to visit with friends.

Sister Nadiya was among several Sisters from her community who lived with Adrian Dominican Sisters and studied in the United States. Sister Nadiya studied at Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida, to become a physician’s assistant. Her recent visit came a few days before the second anniversary on August 6 of the flight of the majority of the Sisters in her community because of the threat of ISIS. Those Sisters – along with tens of thousands of Christians and members of other religious minorities – still live in a refugee camp in northern Iraq.

Sister Nadiya, for her part, has spent the past year ministering in Baghdad at her community’s hospital, which specializes in labor and delivery of babies.

“A normal day is waking up and going to the hospital and working all day,” Sister Nadiya said. Typically, she serves at the hospital six days a week, 12 hours a day, barely going anywhere other than the hospital and the home she shares with six other Sisters in her community.

“It’s been a very tough year, especially for the last month or so” since the July 3, 2016, bombing in Baghdad that left more than 300 people dead, Sister Nadiya said during an interview in  Adrian. “The situation in Iraq is not very stable now. People are afraid to go out. They go out for a very short time, just to do the things they have to do. They actually are always afraid of being outside the house.”

Sister Nadiya spoke of worsening conditions in Iraq: children losing out on their education because they have to help their family, and people living in constant fear, with no jobs. In spite of heat that exceeds 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, the people in Baghdad sometimes have no electricity, or only up to two hours per day.

Sister Nadiya said the bombing has also brought a great deal of grief to the people of Baghdad. The Dominican community in Baghdad knew many of the people who died in the bombing. The bombing was in the shopping area of the city where, at the time, many Muslims were shopping and celebrating during their holy season of Ramadan.

Because of the threats of bombing and kidnapping, many of the country’s most educated people – such as doctors – have left Iraq, she said. “There are no rules to protect them, no government to protect them and help them to do their job as a doctor.” Members of her own family have also left: some to Germany and others to Jordan, where they hope to emigrate to Australia.

Sister Nadiya said she understands people who flee Iraq to make a new life in another country. Understandably, she said, they want a good life and education for their children. For her part, however, she loves her ministry at the hospital. Her work with the babies gets her through the difficult days.

“As soon as I receive the babies [after they are delivered], I just give them a kiss, and I say, ‘Welcome to the world,’” Sister Nadiya said. “That’s really what keeps me going every day. Just seeing them makes you happy. Even though the world is not safe to live in, they are our future.”  

Sister Nadiya said the Sisters in her community live in hope that they will one day return to their home on the plain of Nineveh, though they don’t expect this to happen any day soon. In the mean time, the Sisters gathered for a retreat and for their General Chapter – while providing schools, medical clinics, and other services to the refugee community in Northern Iraq. 

In the face of so much suffering, Sister Nadiya hopes that people around the world will begin to look deeper into events occurring throughout the world and strive to bring about a humane, peaceful, livable situation for people in every country. She also asks for prayers from people throughout the world – and for visits to Iraq by the Sisters from her “second home” in Adrian.

As we approach the second anniversary of the Dominican Sisters’ flight from ISIS, please pray for the people of Iraq, perhaps by taking part in a special novena organized by the Dominican family. The novena concludes on Saturday, August 6, the anniversary of the Sisters’ flight and the Feast of the Transfiguration, with a special Mass at 10:30 a.m. in St. Catherine Chapel. All are invited.

For information on how you can make donations to help the Dominican Sisters in their ministry to the refugees, visit www.1000cranesforiraq.org.


Watch Sister Nadiya's interview:

Sister Nadiya Shamees (front, left) visits with the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ General Council: Sister Patricia Siemen, Prioress, seated, right, and, back row, from left, Sister Jodie Screes and members of the General Council, Sisters Patricia Harvat, Frances Nadolny, Elise García, and Mary Margaret Pachucki.



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