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People

from the world of CNEWA

by Nicholas Seeley

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Sister Nahla Francis

A member of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, Sister Nahla Francis, 32, was born in the tiny Iraqi village of Batanayah and trained as a nurse. From 2002 to 2004 she worked in a public hospital in Mosul, treating the wounded of the Iraq war. Sister Nahla is studying nursing in Jordan, where she also began her work in Zerqa’s Mother of Mercy Clinic (see Pages 6-11), an institution of CNEWA administered by her community of Iraqi sisters. After a busy day seeing patients, and keeping order in the small clinic, Sister Nahla took the time to talk to ONE correspondent Nicholas Seeley.

ONE: Can you tell me a little about Batanayah? How many people live there?

Sister Nahla Francis: Actually, I don’t know how many people there are, but it’s a small village. Most of them are Christian. We have a few Muslim families, maybe four or five. We have our own language; we speak Chaldean [a form of Aramaic, spoken by Jesus]. The village has one church. The primary school is separate — girls in one, boys in another — but the high school is mixed.

ONE: What inspired you to do this work?

SNF: You mean, from the first? When I was studying in high school, we had one sister — Sister Sana’, a Dominican. I saw how she was working with us as students, how she was working with the church and parish, and I wanted to join. I asked my family, who refused at the beginning. Eventually, they gave permission and I joined the Dominican sisters in Mosul.

I didn’t discuss it with anyone. I just made my decision, I asked my family and then I joined.

Maybe it was the way they live, how they treat people. Especially Sister Sana’ — I saw God in her face, in her way. Maybe this is what attracted me.

ONE: So it’s a way of interacting with people — a way of acting that, for you, was holy?

SNF: Yes. Even their prayer was special for me.

ONE: When did you begin to understand what you would do as a religious sister?

SNF: When I arrived in Mosul, it was a shock for me. As I told you, my village was a small village. I saw different people, heard a different language — they were speaking Arabic. At that time I didn’t know how to speak it fluently. But I learned. After I finished high school, I decided to go to nursing school.

Being a nurse fit perfectly with being a Dominican sister. Again, it’s in the way they treat people, the way they find Jesus in others — they see something important in their eyes. It’s a love that is hard to find in a public hospital.

ONE: What was it like to work in the Jamhouri Hospital in Mosul?

SNF: The first time I went there, I was so afraid. It can be difficult to encounter such serious wounds and injuries. But, actually, I came to enjoy it. You feel the patient is like a child — you need to take care of him in everything.

ONE: So was there a lot of violence? Did you treat war-related injuries?

SNF: A lot. I was especially surprised to see revenge attacks over events 30 years past.

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