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Iraqi nun who lived through four wars tries to bring healing to Boston

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Mother Olga Yaqob, foundress of the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth, feels called to be a bridge between peoples

That graciousness intersects with what Mother Olga sees as a growing need for bridge-building in a world beset by fear. Asked about Muslim-Christian relations in the midst of terrorism and uncertainty about Middle Eastern refugees, Mother Olga said:

Sometimes I teach my daughters words like ‘Salaam Alaykum,’ and tell them, ‘Whenever you see Muslim women, especially those in hijab, just try to greet them in their own greetings, just as a sign of acknowledgment. And they’ve seen the difference over the years, even if it’s in the grocery store or at the gas station or CVS…. They tell me, ‘It’s amazing, Mother, just how one greeting can open the door for conversation.’ It makes them feel like ‘I respect you or I’m not afraid of you.’

But is she worried about the Church in her homeland being persecuted out of existence? “The Church has experienced persecution from the 1st century, but the Lord has always promised us He will triumph,” she said. She recalls a time when Muslims and Christians lived not only as neighbors but as family, baking for one another’s holy days and minding one another’s children.

“My Muslim neighbor would never come to my church and blow himself up to kill my brother and sister who shared the same table, the same bread, the same milk, the same cup of water,” she explained. “But what you see today in Iraq and Syria are people who have suffered so much from war and violence, and extremists who came from elsewhere into my country because the borders were open after war, and took advantage of the brokenness of my country after all those wars, took advantage of the brokenness of my people and brainwashed them.”

Of her current life, she says, “Spiritually the Lord has entrusted me with the cross to raise this new community in the Archdiocese of Boston, the diocese that has suffered so much, and to be that source of hope. … I have said yes, not because I believe I have something to offer, but because I believe in the one who can do this work, and I am only following in the steps of the one who said yes 2000 years ago. She teaches me every day how to believe that there’s nothing impossible for God.”

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