We have family in Iraq: A journey in solidarity and love

This story appears in the Iraq feature series. View the full series.

Arlene Flaherty


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Marcelline Koch


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Durstyne Farnan

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December 30, 2015: GSR presents an encore of an earlier column, which, almost a year later, is still relevant as we observe a world where conflict has driven hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. On January 5, 2015, three U.S. Dominican Sisters took a journey to Iraq to visit the Iraqi Dominican community and the Iraqi people displaced by war and terrorism. Here are their thoughts before starting out:

Arlene Flaherty, OP,  Dominican of Blauvelt, New York

As the 2014 Christmas Eve liturgy at the Blauvelt Dominican Motherhouse in New York was about to begin, a small burlap bag filled with the soil of Iraq was placed in the congregation’s crèche. This symbolic action was not only a prayer for the suffering Iraqi people, but also a reminder that in the midst of the terrorizing violence, divisions, and displacements that besiege this ancient homeland of Christianity, God becomes flesh and dwells within Iraq today. The placing of Iraq’s soil into the Christmas crèche, expresses the conviction that in the power of God’s incarnate love, all darkness, division, and despair will cease, and hope will rise radiantly once again in Iraq. The Christmas story illustrates the solidarity of God-who-is-always-with-us, and it commissions us all to be living expressions of God’s solidarity to each other.

As we U.S. Dominicans embark on our journey to Iraq, we hope that our presence among the Iraqi people will convey what words often cannot – “we have family in Iraq.” Not only the U.S. Dominican Family, but countless men and women religious, church and interfaith communities, as well as Americans from all walks of life, send us to Iraq with this message of solidarity and support – “we are family.” Though the message is seemingly simple it is a potent counterpoint to the propaganda of divisiveness that is tearing Iraq and many other nations apart today.  It is in the spirit and power of our relatedness, evoked by the Christmas crèche, that our journey hopes to pave a pathway to peace and security in Iraq- a pathway we hope, many more will travel in the days to come.

Marcelline Koch, OP, Dominican of Springfield, Illinois

The connection to our Dominican sisters and brothers in Iraq was ignited in us during the 1990s by our brother, Timothy Radcliffe. Since then we have honored the claim that We Have Family in Iraq. As family we have grown in relationship – U.S. and Iraqi Dominicans.

For the past four weeks, all of us have been praying Come, Lord Jesus.  We want our God to come among us, and God does, in and through all of us. 

Meister Eckhart wrote that “we are all meant to be mothers of God . . . for God is always needing to be born.” As I place these words along-side the question in the Christmas message from the sisters in Iraq – Where and how are we going to be born in this tough crisis in which we live? – I know that I want to be about this birthing process. I want to visit our sisters and brothers, hear their stories, and let them know of our love and concern. As they have been for us in their suffering, I want the presence of our delegation, in the name of the Dominican Family, to be a sign of hope and solidarity.

In Jesus, we experience God’s solidarity with us.  And in our solidarity with one another, we draw strength for all our birthing.

Durstyne Farna, OP, Dominican of Adrian, Michigan

I can’t forget the night of June 25, 2014. I was on retreat and it was late in the evening. I was in front of the Blessed Sacrament in the quiet of night when I started receiving a series of text messages from Sr. Diana Momeka in Iraq. One might think of texting as an intrusion into retreat but it was really a deepening of prayer and solidarity with the sisters being displaced in their own country. They left everything and began to walk toward safety first to Qaraqosh and eventually to Ankawa where they are now.

And now I prepare for a visit to meet the internally displaced refugees called Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Mosul. It is very difficult to comprehend how they are living in containers just like their people. It seems as if God has asked them to re-enact the night Christ was born in a manager some 2000 years ago. The surroundings are unfamiliar and the circumstance frightful for the Holy Family as it is now for the Christians and Dominicans in Iraq.

I feel an urgency to meet them, experience what they are experiencing and wondering If I could do what they are doing. I feel sent and called at the same moment by my sisters in the Adrian Dominican Congregation. They have blessed me in many ways with their tears, delight that we are going and somewhat hesitant. Each of us represents not only our Dominican congregation but all Dominicans, as well as our families. 

I pray that I will be a useful ambassador and most especially be open to all that Christ wants to reveal to me and us as we embark on this pilgrimage.  May the Christ fill our hearts with deep love, and compassion as we greet our dear friends in Iraq not unlike when Mary and Elizabeth greeted one another with open arms and welcome.

[Arlene Flaherty has served in Leadership of her religious congregation and as a justice promoter within the Dominican Order, and she currently serves on the Iraq Coordinating Committee; Marcelline Koch directs the Office of Justice for the Dominican Sisters of Springfield; and Durstyne Farnan, is Director of Vocations for the Dominican Sisters of Adrian, Michigan.]