24 May 2016
CNEWA President Msgr. John E. Kozar meets Sister Diana Momeka on a visit to the convent of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Ain Kawa, in northern Iraq, last year. (photo: CNEWA)
Last year, a tiny powerhouse made headlines for her passionate witness on behalf of the suffering people of Iraq:
The first thing that struck me about the veiled woman in white standing in our reception area was: “She’s so little.” The petite Dominican sister with the piercing eyes and dark hair didn’t look like someone who would shake the world.
But I soon learned that her passion and her message are, in fact, earth shaking. Small wonder that this small wonder has made some of the most powerful people in world capitals sit up and take notice.
Sister Diana Momeka left Iraq a few weeks ago to visit the United States; one of her most important stops was Capitol Hill, where she spoke to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Last night, she braved a thunderstorm to drive from Washington to New York, to visit with several of us this morning at the offices of CNEWA. Beyond a reunion between old friends and collaborators — CNEWA has sponsored the work of her congregation for many years — this meeting held a deeper and more poignant purpose. She wanted to share her message about the plight of thousands of Iraqi refugees — men, women and children, young and old, healthy and infirm — who fled their homes last year to escape ISIS, and settled in whatever housing they could find in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil.
It has been a harrowing time — and the Iraqi families aren’t the only ones suffering. Sister Diana and dozens of other Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena fled their convent and also settled in Erbil, where they are working tirelessly to help people who sometimes feel helpless.
“My main message,” she told those of us gathered in the board room, “is to get human dignity to people there, in Iraq.” Her words were measured and her focus, laser sharp.
“People,” she continued, “have been humiliated. They are living in slums. These people are human beings with great love, great faith. But when you lose your home, your heritage, your culture, you lose your dignity. When you live in a container, in a tent, you don’t have any privacy, this is not a real human life to live. My hope is to find a way to give dignity back.”
We chronicled the remarkable work she and her order have undertaken in the pages of our magazine:
“People came with fever, dehydration, diarrhea,” says Sister Diana. “They were sleeping on the ground with no tents in the beginning. After some days they got tents, but there was no clean water, and so no proper bathing. Diseases like scabies started to increase.” It became clear some sort of health service was essential, and thus was the Martha Schmouny Clinic born — first in tents donated by French charity SOS Chrétiens d’Orient, and later transformed into a cluster of three prefabricated containers donated by CNEWA.
As time has passed, and the reality of the Christians’ displacement has become more and more entrenched, the Martha Schmouny Clinic has continued to grow, its capacity and range of services expanding to provide a better safety net for the vulnerable community.
“We often talk about the role of the Holy Spirit in our work,” Sister Diana said as she made her way to the clinic early one recent morning. “We started the clinic like a small grain of yeast and now it has steadily increased like dough.”
Sister Diana remains a hero to those who fled their homes — and remains a great advocate for their cause. To learn how you can support suffering Christians in Iraq, visit this giving page.
Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians Sisters