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U.S. Dominicans Discover Service, Deep Faith in Iraqi Counterparts

16 Jan 2015 – By Doreen Abi Raad

BEIRUT (CNS) — Three U.S. Dominican sisters visiting displaced Christians in Iraqi Kurdistan encountered a witness of service and deep faith.

They had traveled to Iraq on a mission of solidarity with the Iraqi Dominicans, who are among the more than 100,000 Christians uprooted from their homes last summer by the advances of Islamic State militants.

Now the displaced sisters are administering to the tens of thousands still homeless, mostly dwelling in tents, half-finished buildings and containers in Iraqi Kurdistan.

The three Americans — Sisters Marcelline Koch of Springfield, Illinois; Durstyne “Dusty” Farna of Adrian, Michigan; and Arlene Flaherty of Blauvelt, New York — spoke to Catholic News Service via Skype from Iraq before completing their 5-15 January visit to Erbil and Dohuk, which are hosting most of the internally displaced Iraqis.

They recalled “very, very sad faces”; small, metal housing units almost as cold as meat freezers; two to three families crammed into single rooms; and, because of sporadic electricity, an eerie, dangerous darkness enveloping interiors of chilly concrete buildings housing the displaced.

“It’s cold for us, and we come from real cold climates,” said Sister Dusty, as she calls herself.

“I’m still trying to get my head around what it means to have lost your home, your culture, a place to belong, your community — everything,” said Sister Marcelline. “That sense of loss is just huge. And being here has helped me to feel that much more.”

Christians from Qaraqosh, for example, came from what would be considered the upper middle class by American standards. They were educated professionals — doctors, lawyers, business owners — who lived in very large homes.

“They have nothing anymore, they absolutely lost everything,” said Sister Dusty.

Adding to the unrelenting misery are humiliating reminders for the families of what they had to abandon.

Contents of their homes are even being sold at “robber’s markets” near their dwellings in Kurdistan. A displaced man from Qaraqosh received a menacing “business” call on his cell phone: “I’m standing here in the middle of your store. What do you think about that? I’m selling your things.”

“This is obviously not a sustainable situation,” Sister Arlene said of the crisis in the Kurdistan, adding that the displaced face “a very unknown future.”

The sisters said they heard the same sentiment expressed in different ways from the people they met: “This is not our home, this is not our place. We want to go home.”

Yet they don’t know if they can ever go back to their homes. It seems there is not the capacity to protect their cities and villages, the sisters said, and anyplace that the Islamic State has left, it has booby-trapped with mines.

The stability of the Kurdistan region is also unclear.

“ISIS is not far from here” the sisters said, noting that on 10 January the Islamic State was about 25 miles southwest of their location.

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Tags: Iraq Refugees Iraqi Christians Sisters