Nun tells about life today in Iraq

Religious freedom declined after tyrant was removed

Sister Diana Momeka doesn't criticize the U.S. invasion of Iraq. She just states the facts about life before the Americans entered her homeland to depose Saddam Hussein in 2003 and what life is like now.

"Americans see stories of towns returning to normal, markets opening and people shopping for their daily groceries but the sense of everyday angst, uncertainty and fear are not seen in the stories," she told the Catholics@Work breakfast group recently at Crow Canyon Country Club.

Iraqi Christians have special challenges, she pointed out. Before 2003, the country had 1.2 million Christians; now it has 400,000, due to persecution from Islamic terrorists.

Before, life could be difficult, due to the sanctions of the West, but her family mostly lived comfortably and in freedom. Now, like everyone in Baghdad, her family has power just a few hours a day - even in the freezing winters and blistering summers - and water only every other day.

"The war with Iran (1980-88) was on our border but we did not feel it," said the 27-year-old Dominican nun, who grew up in Baghdad. "It was not in the streets or in the neighborhoods. I remember they used to bring home a soldier when he was killed."

She was a child when the sanctions against Iraq began in 1990, and there was no medicine for her mother's heart problems.

"In the late '90s to 2003 everyone said there would be war," she recalled. "Then on March 29, I was sleeping and the blast of bombing started."

"We were happy that freedom would come," she said, "but we did not know the consequences."

She was attending the University of Mosul and every day she would see bodies on the road. "They could not pick up the bodies or they'd get killed," she explained.

Kidnapping also became prevalent. One of her brothers, a mechanic, was sitting in front of his shop and three men came and shot him with 30 bullets.

"A neighbor said they shot him because he was a Christian. The men had tried to convert him to Islam," she said. "He left four teenagers and a wife, 39. The oldest was 15, and they started to work."

She also lost four cousins, some killed by terrorists, others by U.S. soldiers.

"One cousin was kidnapped for 40 days, and U.S. soldiers released him," she said. "They found him in the mud, half dead."

She also fears because education, which was good before 2003 and cost nothing, has been interrupted. "It's very dangerous," she said. "If you don't have an education, you will be miserable."

Sister Diana has been living in the United States for three years and relishes each day free from fear.

"In Iraq, when people leave in the morning they don't know if they will come back," she said. "People see their children dying and they don't have medicine. You go to a hospital and there are no doctors."

She told stories of a priest being kidnapped, a Christian woman raped in front of her husband and him being set free to tell the tale. She told about Islamic terrorists making Christians leave their homes.

"They say, 'You have three choices. You can get killed, convert to Islam, or leave without anything,'" she said. "The people close to me left with nothing."

They sought refuge in the few safe Christian cities where the residents were overwhelmed to welcome them into their homes and try to help them find work. "They slept on the floor, in the churches."

"Seven churches were bombed in 2004, 2005 while people were worshipping," she said, pausing to collect herself before she could continue. Her convent was also bombed.

"Despite that, churches are packed with people," she said. "We see people filled with faith and hope. We believe peace will come. Most homilies are about hope."

Five million Iraqi people have been displaced throughout the rest of the Mideast, she reported. There are 1 million widows, who have no one to support them. Two million are displaced within Iraq without homes or jobs.

"Where are we going to end up? I don't know," said Sister Diana. "I want to feel we're human, that we have rights like everyone else."

"I know the soldiers are fighting but they are hurting, too," she added. "Should freedom come as a result of bloodshed?"

She said she grew up side by side with Muslims and never experienced persecution and fear.

"These extremists are not the people we lived with and shared our lives with," she said. "The persecution of the Christians is the result of lawlessness."

Sister Diana lives in Michigan and teaches at a literacy center. She also hopes to teach when she returns to Iraq.

She said before she came to the United States she was angry because she thought Americans didn't care about what was happening in Iraq.

"Now I see that people do care, and they want to end the war," she said. "This is my second home now."


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Jo Shafer, OPB
a resident of another community
on Mar 23, 2009 at 11:20 am

Sister Diana's testimony of her native Iraq's "before and after" is a compelling story that the American public needs to read and hear. It's a behind-the-scenes report of daily life of ordinary citizens, especially Christians persecuted for their faith. Many become modern martyrs of the Church. Thank you for printing Sister Diana's story.

Jo Shafer, OPB
Oblate of the Precious Blood

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