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Dominican Nuns Keep Hope Alive Among Displaced in Northern Iraq

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Dominican Sister Elene kisses 4-year old Luis Firas as he walks to a preschool in Ankawa, Iraq, April 7. The Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena were displaced by the Islamic State group in 2014 and have established schools and other ministries among the displaced. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

Dominican Sister Elene kisses 4-year old Luis Firas as he walks to a preschool in Ankawa, Iraq, April 7. The Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena were displaced by the Islamic State group in 2014 and have established schools and other ministries among the displaced. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)
Dominican Sister Elene kisses 4-year old Luis Firas as he walks to a preschool in Ankawa, Iraq, April 7. The Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena were displaced by the Islamic State group in 2014 and have established schools and other ministries among the displaced. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)


 
By Paul Jeffrey
Catholic News Service

IRBIL, Iraq (CNS) — When the Islamic State group rolled across Iraq’s Ninevah Plain in 2014, tens of thousands of Christians fled for their lives to Kurdish-controlled areas of the country. They still wait in limbo in crowded camps, facing an undefined future. The only certainty they enjoy is knowing that whatever happens to them, a group of Dominican nuns will be at their side.

“We will not leave our people. Wherever they go, we will go with them,” said Sister Luma Khudher, a member of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena.

The Iraqi congregation was founded in Mosul in the late 19th century and, over the decades, the nuns have operated schools and clinics throughout the country.

In the aftermath of the 2003 U.S. invasion, many of their facilities became refuges for families displaced by the violence.

By 2014, driven out of Mosul by the Islamic State, many of the nuns were in Qaraqosh, where they were repeatedly assured that Kurdish Peshmerga fighters would protect the city. But the Kurdish troops pulled out late Aug. 6, 2014, and the sisters were among the last to hurriedly flee for their lives. Sister Khudher drove one of the convent’s four vehicles, the sisters packed tight as they crept along the dark and crowded highway to Irbil, the capital of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region. It took 10 hours to cover 30 miles.