Sister Clara Nacy, of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Iraq, shares with us some of the challenges her people are continuing to face, as they return to their devastated homes and struggle to rebuild.
After 7 August 2014, of the invation of ISIS we had no place to live. During the first year of displacement, we suffered many losses. Seventeen sisters died of heart attacks. They were very distressed by what had happened to the Christians in Iraq and to the country as a whole.
During the years of displacement, our sisters worked at every camp for internally displaced persons. We led Christian catechism programs and activities. With the help of Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) and other organizations, we were able to distribute different items — such as clothing, mattresses, milk and diapers, etc. We felt that it is our responsibility to help our people. We ourselves were displaced, also, which helped us understand the needs of displaced families; we knew what they were going through.
After the liberation of our villages and towns, we returned to the town of Tel Eskof, rented a house and turned it to kindergarten. We prepared the children to make their first Communion. We returned to Qaraqosh and opened a school. There, our sisters teach and instruct them in their Christian faith. We are repairing, too, our convents in the towns of Bartella and Bashiqa.
Now, the common concern shared among everyone in the Nineveh Plain is security. After returning to their towns, people do not feel safe. Our people are greatly concerned about how to build a bridge between religious communities after what had happened; they wonder if they will ever be able to trust those who betrayed them and stole their homes. They struggle to be able to forgive.
Also, many families want to return to their homes and rebuild, but discover they have been destroyed beyond repair. Many towns, such as Qaraqosh and Bartella, need infrastructure. The streets need to be repaired. Power is provided only for a few hours a day. Water supply is limited. And depression plagues our people. One needs huge amounts of energy and faith to work with those who hardly believe this will end one day. Yet, we want and need to be with our people. We want to return with them to serve them.
And so we visit families in their homes. We lead youth groups and offer activities and lectures to help them understand themselves and their faith, sharing Bible stories when possible and catechesis for children. We understand these activities are modest — and that they are unable to heal them as a whole — but our efforts may be a balm to sooth their pain.
Life is so hectic in our area; our challenges look overwhelming. Therefore, we encourage people to go beyond their difficulties, and place them in a different context. We try to help them look into things through the eyes of faith. It is easy for people to feel depressed and live as passive victims. So, our aim is to help them live their faith as people who trust God and his providence. We are not the only ones who have lived this reality: The Bible tells us about those who had very similar experiences and yet they knew how to overcome their situation with hearts full of faith in the Lord.
It is hard to know what the future holds for our community. Deep down, we believe our main help is the Risen Lord around whom we gather in every Eucharist. This unites us with the Christ and enables us to endure. Sharing with one another our difficulties gives us the opportunity to reflect and support one another. We have lost much, but we still have each other. And that is of great help. Without our faith, without our life of prayer, we would not be able to continue our mission. Our daily prayers — community and personal — are a source of strength.