Thursday, October 1, 2009

Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine in Iraq

This link tells the story of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine in Iraq. These Sisters--the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Iraq--had operated various institutions in central and northern Iraq for a long period of time. Since the First Gulf War in 1990/1991 and the sanctions imposed on Iraq by the United Nations, their capacity to provide healthcare and education had been severely tested. After the invasion of 2003, a number of their institutions were attacked and several Sisters injured.

Despite the dangers and hardships, these Sisters have availed themselves of every reasonable opportunity to serve God through service to neighbor, including healing and teaching in Baghdad, in Mosul, and in the refugee camps of Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.

The Prioress of this order is a 69-year-old Iraqi, Sister Maria Hanna. She has a deep and abiding faith in a merciful God, a profound love for her neighbors, and extraordinary hope for a better future. Her order is consecrated in the Eastern Rite of the Catholic Church and includes women of all the backgrounds which represent Iraq. Their spiritually is Dominican and they are part of the world-wide family of St. Dominic and St. Catherine of Siena.

Violence there is still high but the need for a hospital is even greater. This is the area where most of the remaining religious minorities of Iraq live (north and east of Mosul).

Sadly, very little aid of any kind has gone to this area. The U.S. Congress, noticing this lack, now requires that the State Department account for all money that is spent in Iraq for the religious minorities. Champions of this effort have been Representatives Frank Wolf (R-VA), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Christopher Smith (R-NJ) and Anna Eshoo (D-CA). In spite of the reporting requirement clearly identified in law, no specific efforts have been created by the Executive Branch to assist our friends in Iraq.

After our initial contact with the Prioress and the Nuncio, we worked to put together a team of people to assist. One team member, Marty Hudson, was the Acting Health Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. Her contacts in Iraq and in the United States were invaluable.

Once the team was assembled, we engaged in a series of long distance discussions with Sister Hanna. Where exactly would the hospital be located? Who would staff it? How much would it cost? Who would provide security, etc.? Many of these questions require a deeper understanding of Sister Hanna's dream so we requested a meeting with Sister Hanna and the Nuncio.

We were able to secure an invitation for the Nuncio to attend the Annual Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., held in May of each year. The Nuncio deputized the Latin Archbishop Jean Sleiman of Baghdad to come in his stead.

Fortunately, Sister Hanna was already planning to visit the U.S. at that time. We developed an itinerary for Archbishop Sleiman and Sister Hanna so they would have the opportunity to tell their story themselves.

Since the Dominican Sisters already operate a maternity hospital in Baghdad, they know what is required to duplicate that effort in another part of Iraq. The floor plans and cost estimates they provided us captured the current hospital's resource requirements.

If we were to accomplish this effort in another country (e.g., the U.S., the Philippines or Nigeria), it would be a fairly straightforward effort. We would develop plans for building construction, equipment, personnel, ongoing operations, and recurring maintenance. But this is Iraq (and specifically the Nineveh Plain) so we needed a detailed political-military security plan as well.

We included current and former members of the Iraqi government in our efforts, along with the larger private sector or Iraqi civil society. We are developing with them something like a "Medical Green Zone"--a safe and secure location for healing and teaching in the north of Iraq. But the term "Green Zone" has very negative connotations with Iraqi people since they consider Iraqis who live or work there corrupt and uninterested in what is best for the nation as a whole. We settled on using the term "health security" instead.

Making the Dream a Reality Our goal in this project is to assist Sister Hanna. There are specific dollar amounts that we hope to achieve in order to support her new hospital.

Secondarily, we hope to bring about the IHS and the public-private partnership needed to develop a sound social, economic, political and secure environment.

A third goal is to try to look at ways to help individuals who have been victims of the violence, their family members, and perpetrators. This goal is similar to those in South Africa after the Apartheid regime ended as well as in post-conflict Balkans and the Sub-Sahara Africa. We are addressing the possibility of having the Ministry of Higher Education sponsor a facility we are tentatively calling the Iraqi National Reconciliation Institute (INRI). Sister Hanna's faith is clearly the source of her ability to not only forgive but to live out in her own life Christ's vision that all of us are His brothers and sisters and must be treated with dignity and respect.

This is a remarkable project because of the remarkable people who will make it work. Frail and broken humans are offering their lives in service to God and we can witness God's grace on earth through them. Secularists will just see this as an act of medical diplomacy.

Please continue to pray for peace -- and especially for those who are trying to live out that vocation in a place that has not seen peace in recorded history.

Please refer to the link to read the entire article.

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