This is a reflection given by Sr Edel Murphy O.P in Mount Argus Church for Sister’s cafe on June 12th at the 11 Mass.
The Dominican Order, of which I am a member, this year celebrates 800 years since its foundation. Founded by Dominic de Guzman in 1216 his mission involved preaching a word of hope assured in God’s promise of love and concern for humankind. Dominic is called a Preacher of Grace and preaching grace puts emphasis on God’s mercy for all, inviting all into a relationship of friendship with God, as seen in gospel story of the friendship between Jesus and the woman, Luke 7:36-8:3. Like the woman in the gospel who kissed the feet of Jesus, washed them and put ointment on his head Dominic’s closeness to God moved him to acts of kindness revealing God’s concern for all creation. His compassion for people intensified his desire to preach.
One of the contemplative tasks of the Dominican preacher is to reflect on human experience in order to identify the God who remains hidden. Let me share the experience of one Dominican community living out this charism in our world of today. It is the story of our Dominican sisters living in Iraq.
The aftermath of the U.S invasion of Iraq in 2003 has been hard on many particularly for Iraqi Christians and other religious minorities. In 2015 the Christian population declined from 1.4 million to 400,000. The rapid expansion of the Islamic State has worsened the plight of Christians as villages have been emptied of Christians in a matter of hours. ISIS took possession of the home of this Dominican community and made it into an IS headquaters in a place called Tel Kaif. And in another area called Karakosh their convent was taken over by ISIS. Now where members of this community live is among some of the 120,000 refugees who have had to flee villages and set up camps elsewhere. Their prioress, Sr Maria Hanna says that the first thing they did when setting up camp was to buy nappies and milk for the babies. Another concern she had and still has is the need to hold the anger of the men who also feel that they have failed to protect their families. “At times”, she says, “all we can do is hold their anger and pray”. And so they remain. This community of Dominican sisters explain how in Arabic there are two words for hope, one is ‘AMAL’, the other is RAJA. Amal is the everyday optimism that things will go well. Raja is a deeper hope, based on the trust in someone who is above all, ‘God’. Most Christians have lost all ‘amal’, they see no future except exile to a foreign land. People have sold possessions to buy tickets to leave their homeland and we all now know about the tragic situations of refugees. This Dominican community of sisters remain there so as to give witness to a deeper hope, ‘God will not abandon’, God who is above all. This is their faith.
Like Dominic this community of sisters is moved to compassion offering hope and holding the pain, loneliness and anger of a displaced people. They work in camps, offer their services and solidarity, they have begun a preschool, they attend to the social, medical and spiritual needs of these people. They pray with them and for them. Their witness is that this hope may shine through in the Christian commitment to go on caring for others even when their own future is so uncertain. By remaining there they shine a light of truth in the darkness of the evil that has attacked good. May God continue to be their strength as they like Dominic faithfully and joyfully proclaim the Gospel of peace to all who will listen.