Saturday, November 27, 2004

Salute To an Iraqi Catholic Nun

When I was a kid, I feared nuns. My fear continued until the early 80s when our neighbor died and left his house to the Catholic nuns in Basra. Me and my mom visited them a few times. That's when I realized they were not aliens from another planet. I realized it's fun to be around them. OK, maybe not during their work hours.

So, today I present the story of a Catholic nun from Baghdad. Sister Beninia Hermes Shoukwana has been the headmistress of Ibtikkar Public School in Baghdad for the last 30 years. The school has 3,000 students and the number keeps growing. Parents want to put their kids in her school because of the school's disciplines.

The terrorists don't want to leave Sister Beninia alone -- do they leave anyone alone? They have been distributing leaflets asking the parents to withdraw their kids from the school. She has been accused of trying to convert her Muslim students to Christianity, which is the most ridiculous accusation I've heard against Iraqi Christians. If you grew up in Iraq, you know this accusation is false. Iraqi Christians are NOT missionaries. We're the oldest inhabitants of Iraq. We lived side by side with the Muslims with full respect for their religion. The Iraqi Muslims know this very well. That's why I'm convinced most of the dangerous criminals running the show in Iraq are NOT IRAQIS.

Many people wondered why Iraqis didn't try to stop the looters after the collapse of the Iraqi regime in April 2003. Well, that's not true in Sister Beninia's case. Borzou Daragahi, reported to the San Francisco Chronicle:

After the breakdown of law and order following the government's fall, she spent the entire spring and summer of 2003 holed up at Ibtikkar to protect it from would-be looters.

"I wasn't armed, and I was vulnerable," she said, "but I confronted the thieves, and they went away."

Despite increasing prejudice against her faith and threats against her school, the numbers of parents trying to get their children into her school continues to grow. Some classrooms are jammed with as many as 60 students. The school is in the process of building an annex.

The report ends with a good message from the courageous nun:

Sixteen of her charges, mostly Christians, recently left the country. Every day desperate parents visit her office, telling her they are frightened and are thinking of abandoning Iraq. She urges them to stay.

"I try to explain to them that wherever they go, they'll always be immigrants," she says. "Iraq is like our house. It's our duty to try to clean up our house."

She is one of a kind.

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