For over 175 years, the Mission of the Little Sisters of the Poor has been to offer the “neediest elderly of every race and religion a home where they are welcomed as Christ, cared for as family and accompanied with dignity until God calls them to himself.” Occasionally our Lord brings special opportunities to our community that reminds us of a broader component of our Mission and Vision – to be “humble little servants of the poor within God’s community regardless of age or circumstance.” So it was recently when the Knights of Columbus approached us to take in a young woman and her mother so she could receive life-saving care at the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford.
Uncertain as to the reaction of our residents and staff (our residence is not ideally set up to provide the type of care that would be required), as well as whether it would be good for Katreena and her Mom; we accepted the call after a night filled with reflection and prayer. As it turns out, according to Mother Genevieve “it was one of the best decisions we have made at St. Joseph’s Residence”. Sometimes the greatest gift occurs when we open our hearts and give all that we have to another in need. Gabriel-Marie Cardinal Garrone suggested in his book entitled “Poor in Spirit, The Spirituality of Jeanne Jugan” that “having no considerations left where self is concerned our soul becomes capable of loving others as God loves…. She is free to love them. Instinctively, she gives herself entirely to them.… For what the Gospel calls brotherly love, making no distinction and going out to all, to the furthest extent of self-giving in imitation of the Lord, is not a work of ours. And hence it is often called by a name not properly it’s; or people are content to sense a mystery here, without penetrating further. For ‘littleness’ is really another name for the love of God, a divine gift making recipient and user great.” Maybe that is the lived meaning behind Christ telling us “[a]nd whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.” Matthew 18:5
Katreena and her mom, Rajaa, came to us via Mosul, Erbil (Kurdish capital of northern Iraq) and the Knights of Columbus. Katreena suffered an injury to her foot while attempting to evade capture and torture by ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). Her leg became severely infected (which resulted in her kidney failing) during the long trek to Erbil. While at a medical clinic in Erbil it was determined that the local hospital could not adequately treat the infection and pending organ failure. The Knights of Columbus became aware of Katreena’s condition because they support the medical clinic in Erbil. Just prior to surgery to have her kidney removed (which according to the doctors would surely cause her premature death), the Knights of Columbus committed to transporting Katreena and her Mom to Connecticut to get the proper medical attention. Over the past couple of months while living at St. Joseph’s, Katreena received the medical treatment necessary to stabilize her health. A tremendous “shout out” for all the work and effort of the Knights of Columbus – they were truly inspired by the Holy Spirit!
Initially, Katreena and Rajaa occupied an apartment on the property separate from our other residents; however it became obvious to all that this lead to isolation and was not the best situation for anyone. Consequently, we moved them into the main residence and then everything changed for our entire community. The community of St. Joseph’s (residents, Sisters, employees, staff, volunteers and guests) quickly adopted them both, and we in turn became witnesses of God’s grace through them. Although there was a language barrier to overcome, their energy, joy and smiles infectiously brought a spirit of life, lightness and youthful exuberance into our holy halls. As Mother Genevieve shared “it brought the residents a sense of having a granddaughter on site … and for us and the staff, she was like our little sister.” Furthermore, Mother Genevieve reflected that our Community has always prayed for the Middle East, but now it’s got a face … because it brought the whole thing to life for us.”
Although Katreena’s health is now stable, she and her family face an uncertain future. On Thursday, October 22nd Katreena and Rajaa headed back to Iraq to join the rest of their family. Unfortunately, fear is ever-present because as Katreena acknowledged that “although the Kurdish capital is relatively safe, we don’t know when ISIS will show up in Erbil.” ISIS has already let Rajaa’s husband (who is a policeman in their home town) know that they can’t go home because their “house has been burned down and they have nothing left.” “There is little hope acknowledged Rajaa, that is why my husband wants to leave Iraq. Even if an organization helps us, we don’t want to stay there. Until ISIS dissolves, there’s no hope for a Visa; and thus the family will have to remain in Iraq” hiding from the wrath of violence. But what has been our guiding light for over 175 years is that everything is possible through faith in God’s love and guidance. And so it is that our prayers for peace in the Middle East will now have a smiling face, an exuberant childlike presence and her name will forever be in our hearts … may God bless and protect Katreena and her family, and let them feel our community’s continued presence in their life. Forever theirs and yours in service and love …
Sr. Frances, October 2015
(Partially reprinted from John Burger’s October 21, 2015 article entitled “An Iraqi Girl’s Brief Respite from Fear, in the US”)