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Greetings from Sulaimania. I will be returning on Nov. 26, so this will be my last e-mail. Once again, it will be so hard to leave. I have been touched by so many people here….they leave their footprints on my heart.
Greetings from Suleimania, northern Iraq. I will be returning on Nov. 26, so this will be my last e-mail. Once again, it will be so hard to leave. I have been touched by so many people here….they leave their footprints on my heart.
All is going well with the team (a mission of Christian Peacemaker Teams I’m serving with). One member, Marcus, is leaving next week for his home in London. He has worked on a film telling the story of villagers affected by the Exxon Mobil efforts here. Marcus is a professional movie maker, so his film is quite excellent. I have a DVD copy and will bring it home with me. He has great footage of the villagers who are eager to tell the story of how their land is being taken. It is such beautiful land, most of it mountainous, much dotted with vineyards.
You may have seen in the news the story of Irani activists being executed in retaliation for a recent struggle at the border. Irani’s are hung publicly. There has been a demonstration here to protest the executions. The demonstrators, Iraqi and Irani Kurds, carried photo’s of their family members. One woman carried two photo’s and told me that they were her sisters. She went on to say that one was already executed and the other was in prison. She may have already been executed. I met one woman in the procession who told me that two of her sons were in prison. She did not know if they were dead or alive. I could feel her pain and when I held her, she told me that she was heart broken, but also very proud that her sons were willing to die for their country.
We have been called upon several times during these past months to provide sanctuary for women who are in imminent danger to their lives. I have been with women who only want safety….for their children and for themselves. Sharing our space with them enables me to get to know them well and to hear their stories. Several of them are running from a life of oppression and even death. Women here have far fewer rights than women in many other places. I am humbled by their courage and their struggle to protect their children as well as themselves. They challenge me again and again to realize the life of privilege I live.
I was in the Syrian refugee camp this past week. There are so many refugees and many still have no place but a tent. The weather has begun to change already. It is much colder and there is lots of rain. I feel the cold and wonder how they will manage as it continues to get colder here. Suli has snow in the winter. As I walked through the camp, I was reminded of the camps I visited in Congo. How many human beings live in camps around the world. How long before we all have a place on this planet to call our own.
Once again, thank you for your prayers. I keep you all in mine.
Blessings of peace and love,
– Sister Rosemarie Milazzo, MM
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In some parts of Kurdistan, near northern Iraq, the percentage of young girls subjected to female genital mutilation is now close to zero, says Sister Rosemarie Milazzo (r.)
On 30 October 2013, Christian Peacemaker Teams’ partner organization, the Iraq office of WADI (a non-governmental women’s rights group) organized a press conference—which media representatives from six major Kurdish satellite channels and several newspapers attended—about the decline in female genital mutilation (FGM) in Kurdistan. The WADI project coordinator, Falah Muradkhan, said his organization had called the press conference because of the huge international attention stirred up on the topic caused by the recent BBC World and BBC Arabic’s airing of two documentaries and the reporting of The Guardian newspaper.
WADI used this occasion to present new data about the FGM situation in Kurdistan and WADI’s current activities. Two years ago, the Kurdistan Regional Government banned FGM as part of a wide-ranging law to improve women’s rights, after years of grassroots campaigning run by activist and civil society organizations, including WADI. In a region where honor killings still happen, journalists write about Kurdistan as a “rare success story.”
The documentaries about FGM tell the amazing story of WADI traveling to a remote village and accidentally learning about girls being cut. WADI began a strenuous grass roots campaign, doing further investigation, enlisting the help of the mullah and other leaders of the village. The mayor of the village was proud to help in the campaign. He and his wife had daughters they wanted to protect from this practice. The mayor went on to say, “We believe that your body is yours and cutting it is an act of violence.”
Many Kurds believe that khatana or Female Genital Mutilation is part of Islamic practice. However, numerous mullahs oppose FGM. One of them, Mullah Omar Chngyani, an Islamic scholar, has written extensively about the subject. He says: “This practice is not in Islam, it’s a traditional practice, not a religious one—it’s a form of oppression for women.” Chngyani says, “… if you read and understand deeply you’ll know that Islam could never tell us to hurt anyone.”
Sr. Rosemarie Milazzo (r.) is serving on a peace mission in northern Iraq. CPT photo
At the press conference, which CPT (a group I’m serving with now in northern Iraq) attended, Falah Muradkhan, Project Coordinator of WADI, presented the details of its work against Female Genital Mutilation. His PowerPoint presentation explained the results of their work. Traditionally, in some areas of Kurdistan where FGM is practiced, more than 90% of women aged twenty-five and older were already mutilated. In Halabja and Garmyan, where WADI has worked extensively, the percentage of young girls ages six to ten subjected to the practice is now close to zero. In Ranya, WADI’s most recent operation area, the rate of FGM used to be 100%, and it has dropped to 48%. I rejoiced with all the media present as we listened together to this good news.
I wondered, in countries around the world where FGM is still practiced, how many women might rejoice now that it is publically declared an act of violence in Kurdistan?
– Sister Rosemarie Milazzo, MM
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The Pope “impressed me as a simple man, a man of God, a man who wants to connect,” says Sr. Teresa Dagdag (above, far l.).
I want to call it “an ordinary encounter with an ordinary Pope.” I now send you the context in which it happened as it was all a surprise. Although I knew that we were scheduled to have an audience with the Pope which was set up by the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace (PCJP), the sponsor of this three-day commemorative event of the 50th anniversary of the encyclical Pacem in Terris, I did not expect to have this chance to speak with him directly. I even used the Italian word ‘te’ which is a familiar one rather than ‘Lei,’ the more polite form like Usted in Spanish.
On October 3, around 12pm after having walked for about 10 minutes on Vatican grounds to the Clementine Hall, all 300 of us participants waited for Pope Francis to come. In the meantime, I heard my name being called “Sister Teresa, please come.” It was Pamela, the staff member of the PCJP who called me as she pointed to the third row in front which was not occupied at the time. Marie Dennis (former head of Maryknoll’s Office for Global Concerns who is now Co-President of Pax Christi International) was there, too, about 4 seats to my right. I moved to the front and thought, why?…. she told me that I was to represent the JPIC Commission Secretariat – USG-UISG. I said that there were two of us, but was told that I was chosen based on the decision to have a woman represent the Commission. Well, I thought, this is really exciting, but what do I say to Francis?
After what seemed to be a long wait, the Pope came in and shook hands with Cardinal Turkson, the head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Without any fanfare, he went to the microphone to deliver his message. The delivery seemed weak. They tried to fix the microphone but still his voice was faint. He looked tired but his message was powerful. In the end, he said that it is a shame that Lampedusa tragedy had to happen. This was the sinking of the boat in a southern part of Italy where refugees have been coming as it is one of the closest points from the African continent.
Then the line started to move. There were three rows of participants who were designated to greet the Pope. We waited for the line to move faster but as it took time to talk and share with the Pope, I had time to compose my line for a short encounter. I recalled how to say it. I thought of the short moment that this encounter would take so I got my calling card out and wrote a simple message on it about my work and whom I represent.
The man who was seated to my right would have to see him before me. He was holding a roll of something which he called papiro and which I understood as papyrus. I was following him so when he unrolled the papyrus sheet there was a painting of Francis on it and the photographers took lots of pictures of it. We were surprised; we did not expect it. I was included in this picture which was released in the L’Osservatore Romano the next day. If you could get a copy, you will see what I now am trying to describe. One woman before me spoke of her work with child soldiers in Africa and the Pope was really interested in that one. She took more time speaking with him than most.
Then my turn came. The Pope looked very attentive. You can see in the photo that he was listening. I heard myself being introduced as a religious but did not hear what may have been said before or after that. He looked very sincere, wanted to hear what I had to say. I introduced myself as working with the Commissione Guistizia Pace e Integrità del Creato. He smiled and then I got my famous phrase out to let him know that we are happy to work with him. My simply Italian phrase came out clear: “Vogliamo lavorare con te” (we desire/want to work with you). I also handed him the little calling card with a note in it expressing a similar message. I moved on to give space to the rest of those in line. I walked back to my seat with exhilaration. That was not an ordinary event. Before long after the last one finished greeting him, three seats were moved to the front of the chairs where we were. That was for the photo op of the whole group with the Holy Father.
I went away knowing that this Pope was intent on continuing the reforms that he had intended to introduce and that he wanted to have short encounters like this because he had said that he needs to talk to people, to find out what they think, and I add, to know how they could help in this reform. The Pope impressed me as a simple man, a man of God, a man who wants to connect (look at the way he listened to me in the photo); holy in the sense that this Pope wants to work for the Kingdom of God – for justice, peace, love and freedom…and that is exactly what we religious want to spend our lives on, to make this ministry for justice and peace the central dimension of our consecrated lives.
Here is where want to work with Pope Francis, where we could collaborate in the Church and society, as men and women, working together, the men making more space for the women as Francis said in his recent interview for America magazine and as the organizers of the audience tried to do. We do want to work with him to make this vision come true! This is not ordinary!
– Sister Teresa Dagdag, MM
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I listened and felt the hope among them as they looked at a future that they believe can be a possibility here, says Sister Rosemarie Milazzo, (above).
Greetings from Suleimania, Iraq. I hope that all is well there and that you are beginning to enjoy the wonder of changing colors on the trees and some nice cooler weather. We are still quite hot here, but I am told cooler weather is on the way.
Last evening, we went to an old monastery here in Suli. There are several Syrian Monks and one Sister, also from Syria, who have come to start this community. We were invited to their hour of meditation, followed by Mass. I sat in the old chapel, lit only by a candle, just a few of us together in silence, with occasional Arabic chanting. Then after more silence, one of the Monks, picked up his flute and played a piercing melody. I was transformed to an ancient prayer setting.
At the Mass that followed, one of the monks told us that he heard that an ancient monastery in Syria had been bombed by the government there. Their own monastery in Syria is just 20 minutes from there, so they knew the place and monks well. We remembered all of them. In order to make us feel more at home, they had some of the readings and prayers in English, others in Arabic. A lot of their liturgy is chanted. It was another moving experience here.
One evening, we were invited to the headquarters of one of the political parties here to provide an international presence. We were met by many many supporters who had gathered, with loud music playing. Many got up to the mike to speak. One of the supporters was a poet. He took the mike and told the people to rejoice as they had chosen a candle as the party symbol, not a military weapon. Yes they have the bright flame of a candle on their flag…..light to the people.
As we sat with them in their little space (a container cut in half), with odd pieces of tables, chairs, etc. I felt a bit like I was in a Gandhi-an meeting. They have chosen the way of peace for their campaign….all the way is peace. When something was thrown at them, they refused to retaliate. They refuse to use wealth in their campaign. They refuse to put anyone down. They are setting an example of what is possible when non violence is the path. I listened and felt the hope among them as they looked at a future that they believe can be a possibility here.
One of our journalist friends showed us the list of those eligible to vote and he laughingly told us that his grandfather’s name is on the list. Since his grandfather has been dead a long time, he smiled telling us that he would meet him at the polling station. He told us that there are many names of dead people on the lists. The lists have not been updated for a long time, so grandpa can vote!
We had a visitor the other day who brought a young woman to us. The story was that this woman would be killed by her villagers if they knew that she was pregnant while unmarried. They came to CPT (Christian Peacemaker Teams) for help and, fortunately, we work closely with WADI, an organization that deals with women’s rights. We got her to meet the women at WADI and they were able to work out a solution that would be healthy as well as, and perhaps equally as important, safe for the woman. There is a family here that is happy to adopt the baby.
We have a press conference this afternoon and are preparing for it. Then, we need to be ready for our delegation. We will be traveling with them to an election site up North and will be away from Suli for some days. The elections will be on Sept. 21, we are international observers, so prayers please.
Blessings of peace and love,
– Sister Rosemarie Milazzo, MM
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I had visited many a patient and then I became one. This was my first hospital stay, my first surgery and my first experience of real pain.
August is the 3rd anniversary of our mother’s going to God. It seems like yesterday, that we, her family, friends, and Sister Lil Mattingly were holding her hand as she prepared to leave us. Mom was a “good patient”; our father had taught her that lesson. She never complained and thought of her caregivers over the years, when she became frail and then so very ill in those last weeks of her life. Mom had been a caregiver for three men in her lifetime. I feel all those who have loved me and are now in heaven are all my angels and I feel very blessed.
I want to catch you all up a bit on what I learned on May 28. And in the fallowing months since I had left knee surgery. As a retired registered nurse (I trained in the early 1970’s) and chaplain, I had visited many a patient and then I became one. This was my first hospital stay, my first surgery and my first experience of real pain.
Lots of lessons learned about pain and miracles. I thought as I began to feel pain, of mothers who give birth, of my friends who for decades, some for 40 and 50 years, who have lived with pain due to crippling arthritis. I received strong pain medications that put me to sleep. One day after many physical therapy sessions a therapist pulled my knee backwards and I had no pain: for me it was like a miracle. I didn’t think that would ever happen. I learned from the most humble hospital worker to the most skilled professional that it still takes a team, a village of Professional, Kind, and Patient Staff to help patients heal. I was blessed to be sent to Kendall Rehab. Near Maryknoll NY, for two weeks, then had more rehab at Phelps Memorial Hospital in Sleepy Hollow, NY.
My new knee is now straight and strong. I learned some short cuts from a certified nurse aide on how to give myself a sponge bath. And what I could use so as to not dry out my skin. I have a renewed admiration for hospitals and how many people come into a patient’s room in a 24-hour period. What it feels like when the staff comes almost right away, when I would put my light on for care or a pain medication. How one feels when someone sends flowers, a card, or visits you and how some people are so tired. I had one visitor fall asleep in a chair, but that person showed up. At some point I said, “It’s ok if you don’t come today. I think I am too tired to visit.” I think some people came to visit me and I was asleep or at therapy or I was the one to fall asleep on them.
Last week, my niece and Godchild, Jennifer Sierra Sanchez a registered nurse who is 38 years old had a double mastectomy in New Mexico. Jenn will soon begin chemo for her cancer. Her lymph nodes are not involved nor does it seem from scans that the cancer has gone to any other organ of her body. It seems that health insurance does not pay for mammograms if you are under 40 nor are they normally ordered for women under age 40. Jenn has a rare kind of breast cancer, and it seems she has a good chance to beat the cancer. She found the lump in her breast and is trying to educate young women to be faithful with their monthly breast exam.
I would also like to share another miracle story of another young woman who is like a niece for me, Victoria (Herman) Sandoval, who found out she had cancer when she found out she was pregnant. Toria received chemo during the pregnancy and delivered little Lilly early in July. Little Lilly was born the same month as my aunt Lilly who was Victoria’s babysitter. Toria had surgery and the doctors found no signs of cancer. Lilly is still in neo-natal intensive care but doing very well.
To all of you, thank you. Gracias.
– Sister Margaret Sierra, MM
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