We Have Family in Iraq: Letters from Dominican Sisters in Iraq during ISIS offensive, 2014

It has been just over a year since ISIS took hold of Mosul, Iraq and surrounding cities, forcing thousands, including The Dominican Sisters of Saint Catherine of Siena – Iraq, to flee to neighboring cities.  In a series of letters to the greater Dominican family, Sister Maria Hanna, O.P. describes the fighting, the exodus, ISIS’s takeover of the convents, the plight of the refugees, and the conditions in the displaced persons camps one year later.

You can read the letters in Constellation, our online repository of scholarship.  They were first published online by Sinsinawa Dominicans, Inc.  We present them as a reminder of the hardships the Sisters, Christians, other minorities, and all Iraqi citizens endured during the ISIS offensive, as a celebration of the charity and love shown by the Sisters, and as a call to always keep our Sisters and those they serve in our thoughts.

Below are excerpts from the letters, and a movie of the Sisters talking about the ISIS takeover.

“Some parts of Iraq are controlled by the government and others are not. We are – like the rest of our people – unable to understand what is really happening. But we know for sure that this situation is not leading to any common good. There are many political groups and sects, however peace and prosperity of the country as a whole is not in their agenda.”   June 23, 2014, as ISIS began its offensive

“Our exodus started at 11:30 pm, and before that we decided to pray and have the Holy Communion so that if the ISIS entered the house, it will not be defiled. But on the last minute, we decided to leave one piece in the tabernacle praying it will protect the house and the town.
When we arrived to the intersession of Mosul-Erbil, we were shocked to see a huge mess of cars driving very chaotically to Erbil. The view was beyond describing, as words cannot fully capture it. Men, pregnant women, children, handicaps and elderly were moving toward Erbil. There were Christians, Muslims Shiites, Yezeds and Shabak; some people were on foot, some were riding trunks of pick-up, lorry trunks, and motorcycles.”  August 8, 2014, as the Sisters were forced to flee to Erbil

“Despite the loss and pain our community is experiencing, we rejoice in the reality that our sisters have decisively chosen to live life, never letting despair extinguish the light within them, and in the midst of overwhelming hardship, two sisters renewed their vows yesterday evening and two postulants received the habit, becoming novices.
It was a day where the contradictions of life and death converged; we witnessed simultaneously death and resurrection. This was a sign of hope and God’s presence among us, and it gave us courage to continue our journey with our people who are still displaced, weakened, and impoverished.”  September 9, 2014, as the Sisters were reunited in Erbil and Ankawa

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