Three years ago, there were 73 nuns with the Dominican Sisters of Saint Catherine of Siena living in Kurdistan. Since the Islamic State captured the Plain of Nineveh in 2014, one-third of them have died. Sister Silvia is one of the survivors. Surrounded by devastation, she said that she is praying for those who persecute her community, and learning how to forgive them.
“We pray for them every day as sisters. We pray for them, for those bringing peace, for our soldiers, for those who help people have a better life,” she told CNA. “This prayer helps us forgive – not to forget, because you can't forget, but to not hate the other person. If we hate others, that means that we're doing what the devil wants, not what Jesus wants.”
Silvia had been living with 35 of her fellow sisters at a convent in Qaraqosh, Iraq's largest Christian city. “When we knew that ISIS has arrived, the first thing we felt was fear – fear of being taken prisoner by them, fear of violence, fear of death.” The sisters – whose community has lived in the Nineveh Plains and Kurdistan regions of Iraq for 120 years – were forced to flee in August 2015.
During ISIS’ occupation of the Nineveh Plain, some 100 places of worship were destroyed, mostly Christian churches. Now, thanks to the support of the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need, about 1,000 Christian families have returned to their homes. Since 2014, the foundation has allocated $36.6 million for food and housing projects for the displaced Christians in northern Iraq. The estimated cost of reconstruction of the Christian towns is $250 million.
Looking forward, Silvia says, she hopes to continue the religious mission to which she has dedicated her life. “My dream is to live in peace,” she said. “Both my own peace, within myself – because we are also at war within ourselves – and the peace we physically live. Living in tranquility, in love, and helping the people know Jesus because he is love.”
“I say to all Christians that if we are really Christians, baptized in the name of Jesus, we must always trust in the fact that Jesus will be with them. Jesus is with us. Jesus never leaves us. Even if we turn away from him, he will wait for us to return,” she emphasized.
Little by little, Christians have begun to return to the Plain of Nineveh, but there still remains much to be done. “We've asked Aid to the Church in Need for help in rebuilding our convent, and to allow people to return as soon as possible,” Sister Silvia said. “Around 30 sisters will return. We will give hope to the people, we will help educate them, because we have schools to educate their children, and we will continue our catechesis in the churches and the schools,” she said.
This article was originally published by ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.