A Letter From Iraq

by Sister Clara Nacy

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Since the brutal invasion of ISIS in August 2014, ONE magazine has chronicled the exodus of Iraqis from their homes. We have reported, in particular, on the heroic work of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, one of our partners on the ground, as they have cared for the displaced. Sister Clara Nacy, the new superior general for the congregation, shares with us some of the challenges her people are continuing to face, as they return to their devastated homes and struggle to rebuild.

I write this hoping to share a real picture of all that we, along with our people, have experienced in our three-year journey of displacement.

After 7 August 2014, we had no place to live. The house we owned in the Ain Kawa [neighborhood of Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan] was not large enough to hold 74 sisters. Some sisters stayed for two months at the Chaldean Patriarchate. Then they moved into prefabricated containers for more than a year; some sisters still remain there.

Our main concern was to keep together and maintain our sense of community. It was hard to see our sisters scattered at the patriarchate, our convent and the camps, so the congregation thought that gathering the sisters together in one place was important.

In the fall of 2015, CNEWA and a few NGOs helped us purchase two houses connected to each other, which we turned into a convent. It was a better living space and we were able to turn one room into a small chapel. Buying the house provided a decent place for the sisters to share their daily religious practices: praying together, having recreation together and eating meals together.

During the first year of displacement, we suffered many losses. Seventeen sisters died of heart attacks. They were very distressed by what had happened to the Christians in Iraq and to the country as a whole. They had hoped to move to the motherhouse that was being built in the town of Qaraqosh [about a 40-minute drive southeast of the city of Mosul] before the invasion of ISIS; but they were badly disappointed when they realized that having a motherhouse again was not possible. That affected them very deeply. They felt a strong connection to the land and to the community that has always been rooted in Mosul and in the Nineveh Plain.

As time went on, we worked to help those around us. During the years of displacement, our sisters worked at every camp for internally displaced persons. We led Christian catechism programs and activities. With the help of CNEWA and other organizations, we were able to distribute different items — such as clothing, mattresses, milk and diapers, etc. We felt that it is our responsibility to help our people. We ourselves were displaced, also, which helped us understand the needs of displaced families; we knew what they were going through.

Through it all, we drew strength from prayer, both individually and as a community. Believing God is always with his people, we trust he will never leave them alone, no matter what happens. We never felt abandoned, seeing the hand of God in all the organizations that have helped us care for the displaced families. People of good will were always around, showing God's loving care. Our sisters appreciated very much this support and encouragement as we carried on our ministry.

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