“After four months of exile, there are no signs of hope that the situation here in Iraq will be resolved peacefully,” writes Dominican Sister Maria Hanna from her place of refuge in Kurdistan. “Unable to think or make decisions, everything is vague and we feel as if we have been living a nightmare.”
Elected prioress of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in July 2004, Sister Maria Hanna has served during a tumultuous moment in Iraqi history. Her term has coincided with a decade-long ordeal that has included invasion, war, sectarian strife and persecution. This crucible culminated with the expulsion — at gunpoint — of the Christian community from northern Iraq’s Nineveh Plain during the night of Aug. 6. After a final tearful prayer in the convent chapel in her hometown of Qaraqosh, Sister Maria Hanna fled into the unknown with 40 of her sisters, their families, friends and neighbors. Overnight, more than 130,000 Christians abandoned their homes, their livelihoods and their roots, as the Islamic extremists known as ISIS swept through the region, wiping out the heart of the ancient Mesopotamian church.
“Psychologically, people are tired, worried, confused and irritated,” Sister continues in her recent letter. “Who would blame them? The problems are totally overwhelming, and it seems as if our efforts are amounting to nothing.”
Nevertheless, Sister Maria Hanna has made a difference. She has mobilized her own exiled community, organizing volunteer relief committees and working with partners, such as Catholic Near East Welfare Association, to assess the needs of the displaced, assist those with special needs, counsel those in shock and treat those who are ill.
Her care for those in such dire need more than qualifies her to be one of OSV’s 2014 Catholics of the Year. To see more of her writings, go to dominicansisters.com.
Michael J.L. La Civita, KCHS, is CNEWA’s communications director.