Q & A with Sr. Lorelle Elcock, OP, raising money for Dominican sisters in Iraq

It’s been nearly three years since ISIS captured the Iraqi city of Mosul, causing many of the residents, including — eventually — the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, to flee. In those three years, the sisters have reimagined many of their ministries to make them work for life in a refugee camp.

Support from the global network for Dominican sisters has helped bring these ministries to fruition. Sr. Lorelle Elcock, prioress of the New York-based Dominican Sisters of Hope, shares what her parish has done to help the Iraqi sisters.

To read the rest of the story, click here.

Dominican Sister tells of experience with refugees

Dominican-Iraqi sister Habiba Bihnam Toma spoke about the time she spent helping refugees after bombings in northern Iraq in 2014.

Toma said she and her fellow sisters did not want to leave Qaraqosh, Iraq until everyone in the village had fled, but upon hearing news that ISIS was on its way, they were forced to retreat.

“A friend called me and tearfully pleaded that the sisters leave quickly,” Toma, who began learning English in the fall, said. “ISIS had already entered…and we were in grave danger.”

To read the entire story, click here.

Homily for Sunday, January 24, 2016

Readings for Today

Audio Readings for Today

How is it we avoid giving into despair when we see so much death and destruction around us. We fear terrorism, we see destruction in the Middle East, the tremendous death and martyrdom of Christians in the Middle East, those who go without basic necessities and other things we so often take for granted. Just as Nehemiah and Ezra reminded the people that despite the destruction and death of their day the Lord is still with them, so too, by acknowledging that Jesus is the Messiah we can avail ourselves of the same hope, mercy and grace of God Ezra proclaimed to the people.

On the run from ISIS

ERBIL, Iraq—The murderous advance of the Islamic State has forced more than 1.7 million people in Iraq from their homes. The displaced come from various religious, ethnic and economic backgrounds — suggesting that this is still a diverse country, despite years of war and bloodshed.

Here are some of the stories from those who recently had to flee their homes.

A Dominican Sister

“We had only one choice: face death or leave,” says Sister Luma, a nun of the Dominican order who left her hometown of Qaraqosh, Iraq’s largest Christian town, in August — one of roughly 50,000 Christians who fled ISIS’s advance on the ancient town.

Shortly before midnight, she and 35 other nuns packed into a few cars and drove to a convent in Ainkawa, a town in the Kurdish region of Iraq, bringing with them a 10-year-old girl from the church’s orphanage.

This isn’t the first time Luma has been displaced. In June, she fled ISIS’s advance on nearby Mosul.

A graduate from the University of Notre Dame, where she received her Ph.D. in Biblical Studies, and from Chicago’s Catholic Theological Union –- where she discovered her love for brownies and the Field Museum of Natural History –- Luma left behind her beloved library along with the church’s treasured archives, some dating back to the 11th century.

Luma has sought solace in the Book of Micah. “People will use hammers to turn their swords into ploughs,” she reads from her copy of the Bible. “They will turn their spears into tools to cut plants…Everyone will sit under his own vine and his own fig tree, and nobody will make them afraid any longer.”

– See more at: http://www.op.org/en/content/run-isis-stories-iraq#sthash.GWAfX3Rw.dpuf

Homily for Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Readings for Today

I simply cannot understand the deep anger and animosity directed at immigrants. It is not something that occurs just in the United States, either. There are countries all over the world who do not always have an attitude that is favorable to immigrants. For that matter, there are those who, when considering foreign aid or helping people who are desperately poor in other nations want to limit help only to our own country. Many candidates advocate that a giant wall be built along the border with Mexico, and some even would not rule out a giant wall along the border with Canada.

When I hear such things I become very sad. Because it seems to me, that underneath all of this desire to keep immigrants out is fear. We are afraid. And we seek to deal with this fear by enclosing ourselves into a world, a prison really, to keep out the strangers. It feels that we search in vain for a guaranteed safety, a selfish clinging to what fails to satisfy.

Thank God that the saints of old, and even saints today, do not have that attitude. Far from building walls to keep people out, they heard the call of Jesus, the stranger, whom they welcomed. Saint Peter Claver, whose feast we celebrate today, was one such saint. Seeking to evangelize the Africans, he could not imagine how eager they would be to hear the good news he came to bring.

On days like today I cannot help but think about whether I take the words of Jesus seriously enough. Do I care for the poor? Do I welcome the stranger? Do I visit the sick or those in prison? These are the specific deeds mentioned by Jesus in the gospel of Matthew. It seems too much of the rhetoric we hear from politicians and others is far removed from the reality of the words of Jesus.

No where does this seem more apparent to me than the sad plight and crisis faced by the Syrian refugees. We can clearly see the tragedies created by ISIS, but does our own fear keep us from acting to do something, anything for these desperate refugees? It is a crisis of epic proportions, really. But most of us simply look with sadness at the situation.

Pope Francis has heard the call of welcome. He has opened the Vatican to refugees, and has asked parishes in Europe to do the same. Can we open our hearts to see the stranger not as a threat, but as a person with profound human dignity waiting to hear the gospel message? Christ the refugee awaits our response.

Homily for Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Readings for Today

It may not seem this way, but we live in an age of martyrs. People all over the world, but especially in the Middle East and in Africa are being killed simply because they are Christians. Speaking to the Shalom Community who sponsored a relay to raise awareness of the terrible persecution of Christians, the pope said this:

“Your itinerary on the streets is over, but what must continue on the part of all is the spiritual journey of prayer, intense prayer; the concrete participation and  tangible help in the defense and protection of our brothers and sisters, who are persecuted, exiled, killed, beheaded, for the only reason of being a Christian.”

There are the attacks by Boko Haram, by ISIS, by other extemist Muslims who are killing Christians. It used to be that persecution needed to be imagined, but today, we see it on an almost daily basis. Even in our own country, I have heard from people who feel a sense of persecution because of their faith. Talking with those in the science profession, I know many who calculate carefully sharing their personal faith, since many view faith and science as incompatible.

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Homily for September 15, 2014

Readings for Today

Perhaps the worse type of suffering is that suffering that comes in watching someone else suffer, and knowing there is nothing that can be done about it.  Consider the absolute pain of the parents of James Foley, who was savagely beheaded by ISIS.  Or the profound suffering of parents who have a child with a terminal illness.  Or the often disregarded suffering of parents whose children commit some horrible crime, and are executed for it.

It is in this spirit that we understand the Blessed Mother.  From the first moments of her motherhood, she was reminded that to be a mother was to suffer.  You yourself a sword will pierce.  And how true it is when we consider the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  A brutal leader that wishes to execute her son, being a refugee, not understanding her son, witnessing his public and shameful execution.

In today’s society, commemorating such brutality and suffering seems odd.  Why would we wish to recall such suffering, especially that suffering of the sinless Mary.  Too often in western culture we run from suffering.  We spare our children from suffering.  We run.

Yet the Blessed Mother did not run.  Rather, she pondered these events in her heart.  Rather than run, she embraced her suffering to discover its meaning.  How could God bring something good from such horrible suffering?  Was it even possible?

Obviously the answer is a resounding “yes”! Mary pondered so many things in her heart.  She constantly sought the presence of God in her life.  Even when she did not understand her son, she never stopped loving him.  She did not leave his side even when it had to be unbearable to stay.

In this she provides a model for us.  The profound Christian message is that suffering can be redemptive, because of the suffering of Jesus.  His redemptive suffering which led to he possiblity of salvation still does so for us today.

Moreover, she understands when we suffer in a way that makes her especially suited to pray for us.  We simply need to call on her, a mother who knew suffering and a faithful disciple.

Latest from the Iraqi Dominican Sisters

From the Iraqi Dominican Sisters: ” It is certain, many have reached their breaking point and despair is setting in.”

August 30th 2014

Weakened and Impoverished

We entered the fourth week of displacement. Yet, there is nothing promising at all. The Iraqi government has not done anything to regain the Christian towns back from the IS. Likewise, the Kurdish government, apart from allowing us to enter their province, has not offered any aid, financial or material, leaving us in the streets, and making the church take full responsibility of us all.

Thanks to the Church of Iraq in Kurdistan, who opened their halls and centres to provide shelters. Yet, the number of refugees was so large that the Kurdish government had to face the stark reality and open their schools to provide additional shelter for refugees.

We hear a lot about world governments and organizations sending financial aid to Iraq, but the refugee gets the least –we do not know or understand why. People lost almost everything; they cannot even afford to buy milk or formula for their children. What saddens us most is that, only one month ago, these people were the most educated in the country and among those most likely to build a life for themselves and their family, and now they do not have enough money in their pockets to survive the day. Christians became accustomed to investing their money in businesses, shops, fields, buildings…etc, to build their communities.

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Aug 24 Update from the Iraqi Dominican Sisters

This originally appeared on website of the Dominican Order.)

Dear all,

We continue to share our daily struggle with you, hoping that our cry will reach the world. We are like the blind man of Jericho (Mark 10: 46-52), who had nothing to express himself, but his voice, asking Jesus for mercy. Although some people ignored his voice, others listened, and helped him. We count on people, who will listen!

We entered the third week of displacement. Things are moving very slowly in terms of providing shelter, food, and necessities for the people. There are still people living in the streets. There are still no organized camps outside of schools that are used as refugee centres. An unfinished, three story building has also been used as a refugee centre. For privacy reasons, families have made rooms using UNHCR plastic sheets in these unfinished buildings. These places look like stables. We all wonder, is there any end in sight? We appreciate all efforts that have been made to provide aid to the displaced people. However, please note, that providing food and shelter is not the only essential thing we need. Our case is much bigger. We are speaking about two minorities (Christian and Yezedians), who lost their land, their homes, their belongings, their jobs, their money, some have been separated from their families and loved ones, and all are persecuted because of their religion.

Our church leaders are doing their best to solve the issue. They have been meeting with political leaders, with the President of Iraq and Kurdistan, but initiatives and actions of these political leaders are really slow and modest. Actually, all political meetings have led to nothing. Until now, there has been no decision made about the current situation of the displaced minorities. For this reason, trust in the political leaders has diminished, if it exists, at all. People cannot tolerate it anymore. It is too heavy of a burden. Yesterday, a young man expressed that he would rather die than live, without dignity. People feel that their dignity has been stripped from them. We are being persecuted because of our religion. None of us ever thought we would live in refugee camps because of that.

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Homily for Saturday, August 23, 2014

Readings for Today

The glory of the Lord will dwell in our land.”  This was the response to your psalm today.  I am not sure why it struck me so today, but as I heard it I began to wonder if I really believed what I was saying.  I must confess there are times when it seems hard to believe this sentence.  Does God dwell in our land?  Do we really see his glory?

Whether one thinks of “land” as the United States or the world, there are so many things that seem contrary to God’s glory that are quite visible and quite obviously contrary to human reason, let alone God’s divine glory.  In the world, our attention has been focused, to varying degrees on at least four areas.  The evil terrorist group ISIS, perpetrating evil actions in Iraq and Syria, the situation in Nigeria, with the kidnapping of children, and the military actions in Ukraine.  We could certainly add Afghanistan and the Sudans to the list, among others.  There really is a lot of violence around us.

And in our own country, the protests and the violence in Ferguson, Missouri, have been a constant story line.  And in my view, this did not arise only because of the death of Michael Brown, but because of situations like it all over the country where too many minority communities have been treated poorly by the police.  It has given many (and I am not talking about the criminals who loot and commit other crimes) an opportunity to be heard.

So I have no difficulty understanding those who question whether God is present, or if God even exists.  At the same time, those circumstances I have mentioned are all human actions.  It is we who have sinned.  It is we who commit violence.  It is we who do not treat one another with respect and dignity.  We are the ones who treat each other so poorly.  It is human sin that has brought these things about.

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