Day 3 in Iraq
Today’s visit to the school for children displaced from Mosul was more celebratory with the presence of Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop Warda and Bishop Murphy. An assembly of more than 440 students gathered in the central square of the school accompanied by marching music. CNEWA’s head Msgr. Kozar made sure that the visitors experienced the uplifting spirit of the school that the Dominican Sisters infuse every day. The deeply spiritual atmosphere of the school is exemplified by the volunteer French catechist and her Iraqi translator who teach the children how to pray to Jesus. CNEWA support and spirit are essential to making the school so successful.
The visit to the convent of the Dominican Sisters provided a life lesson in the suffering and deaths caused by persecution and deviant religious actions. Some 74 sisters fled ISIS terrorism from the Mosul area in August 2015. When they first arrived, only some could live in the convent due to lack of space. Many lived in quickly arranged trailers on the convent grounds. Over the past year, 24 sisters have died of various causes from the effects of the trauma they suffered. Eight sisters are living in trailers. Contrary to secular expectations, this community that has experienced so much suffering and death is a strong source of life and hope not merely among themselves but for the tens of thousands they serve in schools, clinics and camps in the Erbil region.
The camp visited today is a place of both faith and frustration: strong faith in Jesus and strong frustration that the future seems indeterminate. The desire to return to the homes from which they have been displaced is frustrated by the uncertainty if and when this might be possible. There is the awareness that they must rebuild from the ground up as the houses and places of worship they left are no longer theirs – if any are even still standing. Accompanying this frustration and anger is also a vision of hope as one young women sees herself as a journalist telling the poignant stores of her people.
The day ended with a visit to a seminary and the 17 seminarians studying for the priesthood in this persecuted and war torn land. My cursory math (subject to correction upon further review) made me quickly estimate that percentage-wise there are more seminarians per total Catholics in Iraq than there are in New York. One was asked about his fear of persecution. His response was simple; that this is part of our Christian faith.