August 5, 2016, Adrian, Michigan – “There’s always hope, and there’s always support from different people. You’re never going to be left alone because you are loved by God and by others.”
That’s the message that Sister Nadiya Shamees, OP, a Dominican Sister from the Congregation of St. Catherine, of Iraq, hopes to bring to the people in the world during her month-long visit to the United States. Sister Nadiya spent a few days in Adrian, Michigan, visiting the Adrian Dominican Sisters: meeting with the Congregation’s General Council, speaking to the Sisters before daily Mass, and visiting with friends. Much of her month in the United States will involve study, as well as rest and time to visit with friends.
Sister Nadiya was among several Sisters from her community who lived with Adrian Dominican Sisters and studied in the United States. Sister Nadiya studied at Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida, to become a physician’s assistant. Her recent visit came a few days before the second anniversary on August 6 of the flight of the majority of the Sisters in her community because of the threat of ISIS. Those Sisters – along with tens of thousands of Christians and members of other religious minorities – still live in a refugee camp in northern Iraq.
Sister Nadiya, for her part, has spent the past year ministering in Baghdad at her community’s hospital, which specializes in labor and delivery of babies.
“A normal day is waking up and going to the hospital and working all day,” Sister Nadiya said. Typically, she serves at the hospital six days a week, 12 hours a day, barely going anywhere other than the hospital and the home she shares with six other Sisters in her community.
“It’s been a very tough year, especially for the last month or so” since the July 3, 2016, bombing in Baghdad that left more than 300 people dead, Sister Nadiya said during an interview in Adrian. “The situation in Iraq is not very stable now. People are afraid to go out. They go out for a very short time, just to do the things they have to do. They actually are always afraid of being outside the house.”
Sister Nadiya spoke of worsening conditions in Iraq: children losing out on their education because they have to help their family, and people living in constant fear, with no jobs. In spite of heat that exceeds 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, the people in Baghdad sometimes have no electricity, or only up to two hours per day.
Sister Nadiya said the bombing has also brought a great deal of grief to the people of Baghdad. The Dominican community in Baghdad knew many of the people who died in the bombing. The bombing was in the shopping area of the city where, at the time, many Muslims were shopping and celebrating during their holy season of Ramadan.
Because of the threats of bombing and kidnapping, many of the country’s most educated people – such as doctors – have left Iraq, she said. “There are no rules to protect them, no government to protect them and help them to do their job as a doctor.” Members of her own family have also left: some to Germany and others to Jordan, where they hope to emigrate to Australia.
Sister Nadiya said she understands people who flee Iraq to make a new life in another country. Understandably, she said, they want a good life and education for their children. For her part, however, she loves her ministry at the hospital. Her work with the babies gets her through the difficult days.
“As soon as I receive the babies [after they are delivered], I just give them a kiss, and I say, ‘Welcome to the world,’” Sister Nadiya said. “That’s really what keeps me going every day. Just seeing them makes you happy. Even though the world is not safe to live in, they are our future.”
Sister Nadiya said the Sisters in her community live in hope that they will one day return to their home on the plain of Nineveh, though they don’t expect this to happen any day soon. In the mean time, the Sisters gathered for a retreat and for their General Chapter – while providing schools, medical clinics, and other services to the refugee community in Northern Iraq.
In the face of so much suffering, Sister Nadiya hopes that people around the world will begin to look deeper into events occurring throughout the world and strive to bring about a humane, peaceful, livable situation for people in every country. She also asks for prayers from people throughout the world – and for visits to Iraq by the Sisters from her “second home” in Adrian.
As we approach the second anniversary of the Dominican Sisters’ flight from ISIS, please pray for the people of Iraq, perhaps by taking part in a special novena organized by the Dominican family. The novena concludes on Saturday, August 6, the anniversary of the Sisters’ flight and the Feast of the Transfiguration, with a special Mass at 10:30 a.m. in St. Catherine Chapel. All are invited.
For information on how you can make donations to help the Dominican Sisters in their ministry to the refugees, visit www.1000cranesforiraq.org.
Watch Sister Nadiya's interview:
Sister Nadiya Shamees (front, left) visits with the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ General Council: Sister Patricia Siemen, Prioress, seated, right, and, back row, from left, Sister Jodie Screes and members of the General Council, Sisters Patricia Harvat, Frances Nadolny, Elise García, and Mary Margaret Pachucki.