Africa, India, Iraq: Sisters in conflict zones

This story appears in the Iraq and Ebola feature series.

St. Joseph’s Catholic hospital in Monrovia, Liberia, has re-opened, Vatican Radio reports. This is a big symbolic victory for those fighting the Ebola epidemic: The hospital was closed in August when eight staff members died, including Immaculate Conception Sr. Chantal Pascaline Mutwameme, three missionaries of St. John of God Brothers, including the Spanish priest Fr. Miguel Pajarea, who was the superior and chaplain at the hospital and died in Madrid, Spain after being evacuated. Others who succumbed to the disease include hospital administrator Brother Patrick Nshamdze and Brother George Combey, who was a pharmacy technician. Five lay co-workers also died.

In a country with an already fragile health care system that was quickly being overwhelmed by Ebola patients, the loss of the hospital was devastating. Catholic Relief Services, which helped re-open the hospital, announced the opening, and their regional informational officer, Michael Stulman, wrote about the horrific days of the hospital’s closing:

“During that first day of treatment, the patient was tested for Ebola. That same day, she passed away from the uncontrolled bleeding. Three days later, on July 10, her tests came back positive,” Stulman wrote. “Brother Patrick had been among those caring for the patient. He was sick with fear that he had contracted the virus. Several days later, he was indeed feeling ill.”

The hospital’s reopening is especially important because Catholic Relief Services says that even as the Ebola outbreak appears to be coming under control, it is expected to continue for another nine months.

This makes a “continued and robust emergency response critical to containing the outbreak,” the agency says, and the work won’t end when the outbreak does, either. “The crisis has already done wide-ranging damage, setting the affected countries' development progress back by at least a decade.”

Sisters fight human trafficking

There was a lot of talk last week about Pope Francis’ release of the message he plans to give on Jan. 1 for the World Peace Day commemoration and its focus on human trafficking, but here was less attention paid to those who are leading the fight against this scourge: Women religious.

In fact, “Sisters on the front line of the fight against modern slavery were guest speakers in the Vatican press office, sharing their personal experience of working with trafficked victims in Italy, India, Brazil, Nigeria and Costa Rica,” Vatican Radio reports.

The sisters talked about going on raids with police to rescue girls held in brothels and help police put the traffickers behind bars.

Catholic News Service gave even more details of how “a small group of three or four nuns raid brothels in Kolkata, India, at night, snatching young women and girls as young as 12 from the clutches of their captors.”

If the police have been bribed and refuse to go along on the raid, one sister said, they simply go up the chain of command until they find officers willing to take action.

In four years, they’ve put 30 traffickers in jail.

Lest you think human trafficking is only a Third World problem, the European Union reports that 30,146 victims were registered in the 28 member states in 2010 to 2012. Eighty percent of them were women and girls, the report said, with up to 95 percent of female victims trafficked for sexual exploitation.

‘Christianity in Iraq is bleeding’

“Unable to think or make decisions, everything is vague, and we feel as if we have been living a nightmare,” writes Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena Prioress Sr. Maria Hanna from Iraq. “After four months of exile, there are no signs of hope that the situation here in Iraq will be resolved peacefully.”

As thousands flee the terror of Islamic State insurgents and their slaughter of anyone who does not follow their radical brand of Islam, Christians – already an oppressed minority in Iraq – are suffering profoundly, Hanna writes.

“Christianity in Iraq is bleeding; so many families have left, and many are leaving to Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey, preparing themselves for second immigration and an uncertain future. We know not how long these families will be able to tolerate the burden and survive financially,” she says in the letter to Dominicans.

Those who haven’t fled are suffering, too: “The conditions remain the same for those of us in Iraq. Many still are forced to stay in unfinished buildings on construction sites. In one place, a mall has been remodeled to accommodate families, with the hall divided merely with partitions. Although they are better than tents, they resemble dark, damp cages with no ventilation.”

She closes with a plea to keep them in your prayers:

“As for our community, we are extremely exhausted with concern for the family and friends we have who are unjustly forced to leave us. Everyday we hope that tomorrow will be better, but our tomorrows seem to bring only more tears and hardship. Out of the depths we cry to Thee, Oh Lord! When will you rescue us?”

Remember, links, tips and accounts of the response to any crisis anywhere in the world are always welcome at

[Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.]