October 25, 2017, Flint, Michigan – If you believe that young people have lost interest in books, a visit to Flint, Michigan, might change your perspective. There, in about a year and a half, children have taken home between 12,000 and 13,000 books, thanks to the efforts of Monica Horton, a tutor and board member of St. Luke’s N.E.W. Life Literacy Center.
Monica recently retired from her years of service as a science teacher. Still wanting to be involved in education, she became a tutor and then a board member at N.E.W. Life, where Sister Carol Weber, OP, serves as Co-director.
“I tried to think of ways that we could help the community,” Monica said. Noting the “plethora” of children’s books at the Center, she decided to put them in buckets and give them out in restaurants. But, she discovered, “Our population isn’t going to restaurants, but soup kitchens.”
She and her husband, Jim, began leaving buckets of children’s books at soup kitchens in the Flint area. “We found out that the buckets consistently were empty” shortly after the books were left, Monica said. “My husband and I happened to work at a soup kitchen and we watched the children go to the buckets before they even went for food.”
Monica said she relies a great deal on help from her husband, who helps distribute the books, and on N.E.W. Life, which has become a collection hub. She also has turned to the local Flint community for continued donations, putting notices in local parish bulletins. Local community members have been very supportive of the project, some donating new books and other “scouring garage sales and finding places where there might be good books at a reasonable price,” Monica said. “It’s been magical. Every time we get low on books, we get a donation we never expected.”
Community members have also responded in other ways to help the cause. Volunteers from the Genesee Intermediate School District’s transition center for impaired adults “come and sort and clean the books, put stickers on them, and put them on shelves according to grades.”
There are many positive benefits to the Book Buckets, Monica said. For example, the books bring children and adults together, offering parents the opportunity to read to their children. “Some in the population can’t read, but everybody can say, ‘Show me the kitty,’” Monica noted.
Monica and the literacy center board are especially excited about the impact that Book Buckets is having on the children of Flint. “We’re changing people’s lives, one child, one bucket at a time,” she said. “We’re starting early with the children. If we can make reading not a job, but something exciting, interesting, and fun, then when they go to school they might have a totally positive attitude.”
New or gently used books for children in pre-school through eighth grade can be sent to Book Buckets at St. Luke’s N.E.W. Life Center, 3115 Lawndale Avenue, Flint, Michigan 48504.
October 23, 2017, Springfield, Illinois – Three U.S. Dominican women recently cancelled plans for a mid-October visit to Iraq. They now watch with concern as events unfold in the Kurdish-held city of Kirkuk, where on October 16, Iraqi government forces seized oil fields and a military base in response to the Kurdish region’s vote for independence last month.
“We knew the moment the referendum passed that traveling to Iraqi would be difficult, if not impossible,” said Sister Rose Ann Schlitt, OP, a Dominican Sister of Adrian, Michigan, whose congregation has long-standing ties to the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine Siena in Iraq. “Now we watch once again with dismay as we pray and hope this recent military action will not bring more violence and death to the people of Iraq.”
Sister Rose Ann was to travel to Iraq Oct. 11-18 with Dominican Sister Catherine Waters (Caldwell, New Jersey) and Gloria Escalona, a lay Dominican woman from Oakland, California. The decision to postpone the trip was made by the Iraq Coordinating Committee (ICC) after hearing from the Sisters in Iraq that it was not feasible to travel to or within the country at this time. The ICC is a committee of the North American Dominican Justice Promoters.
ICC members have learned from Dominicans in the volatile region that even amid disruption and uncertainty they continue to carry out their ministries and manage to find hope.
Sister Luma Khudher, OP, council member for the Iraq congregation, said the Dominican Sisters in Kirkuk were safe going about their ministry and study. Though community leadership asked them to return to Erbil after Iraqi government forces moved into the area, they decided to remain in the city because traveling through the crowded checkpoints could be dangerous.
Sisters in other parts of the country also continue their ministries in the aftermath of a three-year displacement and occupation by ISIS. Until this week it was uncertain what would become of the Sisters’ school in the Erbil suburb of Ankawa for children displaced by ISIS. They’ve received word from the Kurdish government that they will be allowed to reopen as long as they do not accept any new students or start a new first grade.
A handful of sisters have returned to the village of Qaraqosh and are preparing school for the children whose families have returned there. Other sisters intend to return to other villages and resume their ministries as they are able.
The Chaldean archbishop of Kirkuk, Dominican Friar Yousif Thomas Mirkis, also communicated with the U.S. Dominicans about his relief that the situation in his city remained calm. “After the Mass, I asked the people in the church to pray, that God help us to avoid any kind of bloodshed,” he said, adding that he feels they avoided what could have been a much worse situation. “Now we have less anxiety and we look forward with hope.”
As a reminder that the effects of ISIS’ incursion into Iraq in 2014 are long-lasting and systemic, he said, “We are trying to do our best to heal the wounds, helping the victims: children, women, old persons, feeding the IDP’s [internally displaced persons]” in Hawija, a village 30 miles southwest of Kirkuk.
“You can say to our Dominican family in the U.S., I count on their prayers,” he wrote in an email to the ICC.
Dominicans in the United States are determined to keep their fellow citizens aware of what is happening to their family in Iraq. “While there will be no physical presence of U.S. Dominicans in Iraq for the time being, we are still committed to our solidarity with our Iraqi sisters and brothers and the people of all faiths they serve,” said Sister Marcelline Koch, OP, (Springfield) North American Co-promoter of Justice for the U.S. Dominicans.
News about the delegation can be followed at facebook.com/WeHaveFamilyInIraq2017 and on the Dominican Sisters Conference website: http://dominicansistersconference.org.
Those who would like to support the Dominicans in Iraq may donate to the Sisters at the Springfield Dominican donation page, springfieldop.org/donate, and at www.adriandominicans.org. In addition, a donation of $100 on the website http://www.1000cranesforiraq.org/ helps to fund the ministries of the Dominican Sisters at their refugee camp, and entitles the donor to a gift of a colorful 6x6-inch painting of an origami crane, created by Sister Barbara Cervenka, OP.
The canceled delegation was to have been the fifth sponsored by U.S. Dominicans. There have been other visits to Iraq by individual Dominican women and men from the U.S. in the 18 years since the first delegation in 1999.
The bond between members of the Order of Preachers in the U.S. and Iraq began when Sister Margaret Galiardi, OP (Amityville), heard a report about the impact of draconian UN sanctions imposed on Iraq before the First Gulf War in 1990. “One of the sisters told [then-Master of the Order] Timothy Radcliff, ‘Sanctions make us feel that we have been forgotten even by God,’” Sister Margaret recalled. “It was Christmas, the time to celebrate the ‘the Word-made-flesh’ in the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.” Sister Margaret remembers coming to the realization “We have to go there in the flesh and by our presence say ‘God does not forget anyone.’”
Sister Catherine and Gloria were members of a previous delegation to Iraq in 2001. Sister Rose Anne lived with one of the members of the Iraqi sisters during a period of ministry in Rome.
The Dominican Justice Promoters represent the Sisters, Friars, and laity of the Dominican Family in the U.S. The DSC represents 6,000 Catholic Sisters and their associates across the United States. Funds for the delegation have been contributed by Dominican Sisters, Friars, and Laity throughout the U.S.
Feature photo: Representatives of the Chaldean Catholic Diocese of Kirkuk distribute aid to displaced families earlier in October in Hawija. The center for internally displaced families is 30 miles southwest of the diocesan center where Dominican Friar Yousif Thomas Mirkis is the archbishop. | Photo credit: Msgr. Yousif Thomas Mirkis, OP, Chaldean Archbishopric of Kirkuk, Iraq.