July 18th will mark the second anniversary since ISIS issued its ultimatum that gave three options to the Christians in Mosul, Iraq: convert to Islam, pay jizyah, or leave. Failure to comply with this ultimatum meant death. As a result, over 100,000 Christians abandoned everything they had and marched to Qaraqosh. They remained in Qaraqosh for two weeks only to find ISIS sweeping across that region as well, leaving them with no other option but to flee to Erbil.
Almost two years have passed since that 54-mile march, and yet little has changed that would suggest any glimmer of hope for these Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). Camps are crowded, psychological traumas abound, and Mosul has yet to be freed. By all accounts, Erbil should be crammed with despondent refugees whose share of suffering has far exceeded all human endurance; the city should be jammed with men and women weighed down with misery, wretchedness, and despair.
And yet, that is not what appears to be happening. Despite the dreadful conditions surrounding these refugees, a graceful disposition seems to be settling in among them, a disposition best demonstrated by this little girl called Maryam (here is the background story on Maryam). That beacon of hope that shines so brilliantly in Maryam’s eyes and her tone of optimism are otherworldly. Their source is not of human origin.
When St. Thomas speaks of hope, he says that its “object is a future good” that is “difficult but possible to obtain.” We can attain this good either by ourselves or by means of others. By hoping to obtain something through “divine assistance, our hope attains God Himself” since it leans on His help to achieve its end.
The secret behind little Maryam’s graceful disposition does not reside in her self-reliance, nor does it stem from the false conviction that overcoming her ordeal is an easy task. Instead, it is the result of her hope in God, for Whom “nothing is impossible” (Lk 1:37). She leans on God’s help to overcome her present suffering and to hope for a better future, a prospect that so many have dismissed altogether.
While Maryam’s ability to maintain a sense of hope is admirable in itself, it is also a testimony to her vibrant and lively faith, a faith that is nourished and sustained by the community to which she belongs. Such is the faith injected into Maryam and her community through the work of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena.
Among the many ministries the Sisters are currently involved in, education and clinical work stand at the forefront. Their school has received the best rating among those which serve the IDPs. Aside from this school, the Sisters also run two clinics that serve IDPs of all faith and ethnic backgrounds. Through their ministry among the refugees, the Sisters have been able to keep a sense of hope alive, the fruit of which is made visible by the smiles we see today on the faces of children like Maryam.
Although progress has been made since the IDPs arrived in Erbil almost two years ago, there is still much work to be done in order to alleviate the humanitarian disaster wrought by the Islamic terror group. “We are trying to set up summer programs like teaching English and trauma healing, especially for children,” Sr. Diana Momeka, O.P., stated in a recent correspondence. Volunteers are needed for these programs. Currently, plans are underway to open another school in Dohuk, a city 46 miles north of Mosul, where IDPs have also taken refuge from ISIS. Some IDPs living in deplorable conditions have been moved into rented homes, each of which is shared by up to four families. In order to serve the medical needs of these families, the Dominican Sisters are trying to open another clinic.
Speaking of cancer patients who have relapsed due to the shortages in medicine required for their treatment, Sr. Diana said, “it breaks my heart that I cannot offer them any assistance.” This shortage in medicine began a few months ago, and as a result many cancer patients stopped receiving their chemotherapy.
The Dominican Sisters are determined to continue their apostolate for those whose witness to Our Lord Jesus Christ has led them to abandon all their possessions and embrace the present dire conditions in Erbil. While the endless obstacles that lie ahead may appear to be insurmountable, the supernatural gift of hope will not forsake these refugees who lean on God’s assistance when looking forward to a better future. Not only does this hope confer a graceful disposition on them, it also benefits us, the body of Christ, by inspiring us to make greater sacrifices while witnessing to Our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Dominican Friars of the Province of St. Joseph have set up this web page for anyone wishing to make a financial contribution to the efforts of our Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena.
Main image: Sr. Huda, O.P. with her students. Images used with permission.