ROME – Despite years of economic hardship and violence in Iraq, the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena are working in the country to promote human rights, said an Iraqi nun.
Dominican Sister Nazik Matty said most people “only hear about people being killed and buildings being bombed” in Iraq and never learn about some of the positive things being done there.
The sister, who is studying at Rome’s Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, spoke during a Dec. 12 conference on women and human rights organized by the university.
She said the war has not only destroyed buildings and infrastructure, but has also deeply injured the Iraqi people.
Through their many projects and outreach, the Dominican sisters work to create places for people of different religions, classes and ethnic groups to come together, meet, heal and reconcile, she said.
Iraqis, especially Muslims, “trust and appreciate (the Dominicans’) services as not being aligned with a certain side” or narrow special interests, she said.
The congregation, which was founded in Mosul in northern Iraq in 1877, started running preschools and schools for girls in 1880.
After all private schools were nationalized in 1974, the sisters relinquished control of their schools but remained as teachers, she said.
When a teacher’s pay was cut to $2 or $3 a month during the 1991-2003 economic embargo against Iraq, many employees left, she said. But the sisters were able to stay on in the schools “to give courage and hope for the teachers and students concerning their future,” said Sister Matty.
The sisters also started offering free workshops for women to teach them skills and give them an outlet for selling their products, as well as setting up a maternal health care center in Baghdad.
The sisters also give many orphaned or poor girls free accommodation in their convents in Baghdad and Mosul and support their studies so they can become “contributing members of society,” she said.
She said after five years of war in Iraq the sisters have been able to keep these projects running.
The new government officially gave them back one of their schools, which they “took the risk of opening and running this year despite the lack of security, as a sign of hope for the young and the families in the neighborhood,” she said.
Together with Dominican priests, the sisters are spearheading a project to start up a free university.
She said it would be staffed by professionally trained instructors as well as by Iraqi Dominican sisters who are currently studying in the United States and Europe.
“The sisters believe that living with others of different cultures will help the young sisters to learn how to accept and appreciate others and then be able to convey that experience to their people when they return,” she said.