Three hundred and sixty-five days ago, in the deep dark of night, the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena fled their home in Qaraqosh, Iraq.
The sisters were some of the last Christians to leave this region of Iraq; two months before, the militant Islamic group ISIS had seized the neighboring city of Mosul, telling the local Christians that if they wanted to stay alive, they needed either to evacuate, pay a tribute to ISIS or convert to Islam. An estimated 500,000 Christians fled Mosul and headed north toward Iraqi Kurdistan. Soon, people in Qaraqosh were saying that ISIS was coming for them next. Defiantly, the Dominican Sisters opted to stay and continue their education and health ministries for the people of Qaraqosh.
But then the Kurdish defense forces that had been protecting the city left, and phone calls started pouring in to the sisters' home. It was too dangerous, the sisters needed to get out, people were saying. And so, with hours to spare, the sisters, too, fled north.
In an open letter penned last month, the sisters' prioress general, Sr. Maria Hanna, describes that evacuation night as terrifying and precarious, sharing that the sisters didn't know "what to take with us or what to leave behind."