"This church is like a mother to us. It is hard to see it this way."
After about a month of fighting, the coalition of Iraqi forces continue to press on in hopes of fully liberating the city of Mosul, the last major stronghold of ISIS in Iraq. Thus far, ISIS has been forced out of at least 120 towns and villages surrounding Mosul and coalition forces are beginning to secure more and more neighborhoods in the city.
One of the villages liberated was Qaraqosh, a place the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena once called home. A few weeks ago the Sisters sent out a letter to supporters, describing the many challenges that they will face even after the city is liberated.
They wrote, “It has been two years and four months since we left Nineveh Plain. It has been long time of displacement, of humiliation, of exile… There are many Christian militants among the army, and some of them we know. So, they have been sending us photos of our Christian towns that are being recaptured. The photos are so very disturbing, as they are showing our churches, homes, schools, and convents, hospitals burned and destroyed after they had been looted.”
Wanting to see the damage for themselves, a handful of Sisters recently returned to the liberated city of Qaraqosh to recover what they could from the rubble.
According to Maclean’s, the Sisters rummaged “through their old rooms in the convent attached to the Immaculate Conception church, pulling out documents and personal items… One of the Sisters discovers an icon she had kept with her since 1997 but left behind in the chaos of her escape—a portrait of the Virgin Mary cradling baby Jesus—fully intact. Later, she uncovers her master’s degree, which she needs to pursue her dream of a Ph.D. in physics.”
After taking what they could from the convent, the Sisters visited a house that served as a school. The Sisters “decide not to enter because of the potential for booby traps. From the blown-out windows it’s clear, in any case, not much remains to be salvaged. A sign leaning on a windowsill belonging to Islamic State, re-anointing the house as one of its administrative centers, finally draws out Sister Luma’s rage. She sends it hurtling to the ground.”
When asked by Maclean’s to describe her feelings towards ISIS, Sister Ferdous said, “I can’t hate anyone… But it’s hard when you see the destruction. I can’t describe my feelings toward ISIS.”
The Battle of Mosul is far from over and whether or not the Sisters are able to return to their cities to rebuild is unknown. The fighting is still very fierce and ISIS has targeted areas that were once under their control. According to CNN, “at least four mortars landed in the eastern Mosul neighborhood of al Zahraa, which was declared under the full control of Iraqi security forces nearly a week ago. Witnesses also told CNN there had been civilian deaths and injuries from the attacks.”
Even if ISIS is fully repelled from the area, there exists no infrastructure to help the rebuilding process. When the Sisters looked at the devastation first hand, they couldn’t imagine their city being rebuilt.
Above all things, the Sisters are asking for prayers as they wait patiently to see what their future will be in Iraq.
*Here is a link to send a donation to these Dominican Sisters in Iraq.