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August 2, 2016, Rome – Not everybody has the opportunity to speak to Pope Francis, much less to receive a hug and a humble request for prayers from him. But Adrian Dominican Sister Joanne “Jodie” Screes, OP, had just such a personal encounter with Pope Francis this summer when she visited Rome with a long-time friend. 

“I felt like I was in another state – I was so mesmerized by his presence,” Sister Jodie said in an interview in Adrian, Michigan.

Sister Jodie was invited in December 2015 – shortly after the opening of the Jubilee Year of Mercy – to visit Rome with a long-time friend, Victor Riley, whose late wife had attended school with Sister Jodie. Victor had been invited to Rome as a special guest after making a generous donation to the Vatican Pontifical Office of Evangelization for the Year of Mercy. The exact nature of the visit to Rome was kept a secret from Jodie until closer to the June 10-17, 2016, visit.

Sister Jodie and Victor were part of a crowd of about 30,000 who attended Pope Francis’ blessing on Wednesday, June 15. They were seated in the fourth row of a section designated for most people in attendance – behind a special section for cardinals, bishops, and other clergy. The focus for that day was on people who are poor and sick.

Sister Jodie recalled the moment after the formal blessing, when Pope Francis greeted a large group of soldiers, then came to her row. She showed Pope Francis a note that she had written in English, and was translated into Spanish by Sister Rose Ann Schlitt, OP: “Dear Pope Francis, I am a Dominican Sister from Adrian, Michigan. Our Sisters pray for you daily. In their name, I want to thank you for your pastoral heart. May I have a hug to take back…”

When Pope Francis saw the note, he picked it up, read it, and said in English, “Of course.” 

During the hug, “he whispered in my ear, ‘Pray for me. My job is not easy.’ And then he moved back and waited for my answer,” Sister Jodie said.

Sister Jodie said she was mesmerized by his presence and by the hug. She compared the experience to having a vision. “You’re so stunned by the presence,” she said. “And then, the incredible weight on his shoulders. I didn’t feel alone. So many asked for prayers from so many Sisters before I went, and knowing that my plea was in their name and my gratitude was in their name, it was just a fullness.” 

Other highlights of Sister Jodie’s visit included:

  • Visiting Santa Sabina, the Dominican church in Rome, and receiving a tour from the assistant of Father Bruno Cadoré, Master of the Dominican Order.
  • “We were able to go to the sparse room that Dominic slept in,” and to visit the Chapter Room and the room where St. Dominic prayed. 
  • Attending the Sunday Mass offered by Pope Francis as part of an assembly of 60,000 faithful.
  • Spending time with Sister Hikma, an Iraqi Dominican Sister who had been in Adrian and is now superior of a house of six Iraqi Dominican Sisters in Rome.
  • Participating in a private pilgrimage Jubilee Year of Mercy walk leading through three major Roman churches connected to the Year of Mercy to the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica. Sister Jodie had the opportunity to visit St. Peter’s tomb and to leave a list of personal intentions in the basilica.

Feature photo: Sister Jodie Screes, OP, right, with Sister Hikma

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July 28, 2016, Adrian, Michigan – The public is invited to take part in a special novena offered by the Adrian Dominican Sisters to pray for the welfare of their Dominican Sisters and Brothers currently living as refugees in Iraq. The novena will begin on Friday, July 29, 2016, and conclude on Saturday, August 6. The final day marks the second-year anniversary of the date that the Dominican Sisters of Iraq and tens of thousands of other Christians and members of religious minorities fled their homes in the Nineveh Plain of Iraq in response to the arrival and threats of ISIS.

The Sisters will pray the novena during the 10:30 a.m. Mass in St. Catherine Chapel. All are invited to join them at Mass or to pray the novena privately. The public is also welcome to view a special display of photos of the daily lives of the Dominican Sisters and the refugee community. The exhibit will be held in the gathering space of St. Catherine Chapel and will be open to the public from 10:00 a.m. to noon throughout the novena. 

In the Roman Catholic tradition, a novena is a nine-day period of prayer, seeking a particular grace or marking a special feast or event. This novena will be prayed by Dominicans throughout the world in solidarity with those who are suffering as refugees in Iraq and as a reminder to the world that peace is possible and is worth working toward. 

The prayers for the July 29-August 6 novena include a daily intention, Scripture reflection, and five minutes of contemplative silence. The intentions and Scripture passages are as follows: 

  • Friday, July 29: for children and youth. Reflection: “I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God” (John 11:27).

  • Saturday, July 30: for parents and elders. Reflection: “Let your saving help, O God, protect me” (Psalm 69:30b).

  • Sunday, July 31: for the Catholic Near East Welfare Association and all agencies providing care and services. Reflection: “Here is one who has labored with wisdom and knowledge and skill” (Ecclesiastes 2:21a).

  • Monday, August 1: for refugees throughout the Middle East. Reflection: The prophet who prophesies peace is recognized as truly sent by the LORD (Jeremiah 28:9).

  • Tuesday, August 2: For Iraqi Dominican Friars and all Iraqi clergy in exile. Reflection: Jesus spoke to them: “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid” (Matthew 14:27).

  • Wednesday, August 3: for the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, Iraq. Reflection: “The LORD has delivered his people, the remnant of Israel” (Jeremiah 31:7).

  • Thursday, August 4: for Presentation Dominican Sisters in Iraq. Reflection: “Give me back the joy of your salvation, and a willing spirit sustain in me” (Psalm 51:14).

  • Friday, August 5: for Iraqi Lay Dominicans. Reflection: “See, upon the mountains there advances the bearers of good news, announcing peace!” (Nahum 2:1).

  • Saturday, August 6: for all who suffer the trauma of these past years. Reflection: “Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my chosen Son; listen to him’” (Luke 9:35).

The days leading up to the second anniversary of the exodus can also include meaningful action to help the Dominican Sisters and the people they serve. Check out the website, 1,000 Cranes for Iraq, to learn how your donation of $100 can help the Sisters in their life-changing ministry to the community of refugees.



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