The US State Department relented and Sister Diana Momeka received a vistor's visa to speak out about religious persecution in the Middle East at a congressional hearing earlier this week.
"Uprooted and forcefully displaced, we have realized that ISIS’s plan is to evacuate the land of Christians and wipe the earth clean of any evidence that we ever existed," she said on Wednesday at a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "This is cultural and human genocide. The only Christians that remain in the Plains of Nineveh are those who are held as hostages."
Momeka said the first attack on her convent in Mosul occurred in 2009 when a bomb exploded there. Then, in the summer of 2014, ISIS invaded the entire Nineveh Plains, a strongly Christian enclave, where the nuns had relocated to Qaraqosh. She said 120,000 people fled the region into Kurdistan and one year later, many refugees still do not have adequate shelter.
But she said Iraqi Christians will not leave permanently. "There are many who say, 'Why don’t the Christians just leave Iraq and move to another country and be done with it?' To this question we would respond, 'Why should we leave our country—what have we done?' "
She called on Congress to support liberating northern Iraq from ISIS; aid in rebuilding of homes, schools, and churches; and assist Iraqi religious groups to resolve their differences through dialogue, not violence.
Another witness testified that in Syria's Duros-Europas area, ISIS has looted an historically signficant Christian house church, which dates to AD 235. The site contains one of the oldest known depictions of Jesus Christ. The area remains under ISIS control.
[Originally posted April 30 as "Iraqi Christian Leader Denied US Visa"]
Religious freedom activists are calling on the US State Department to reverse its decision to deny a visa to an influential Iraqi Christian leader, Sister Diana Momeka, who planned to visit the US this spring to advocate for persecuted Christians in the Middle East.
Today, Johnnie Moore, co-chair of the 21 Martyrs Campaign, and Samuel Rodriquez, president of the NHCLC/CONEL, a large association of Hispanic Christians, issued the call after the organization's conference in Texas this week. Momeka was to be a member of a delegation of Iraqi religious leaders visiting Washington, DC.
“Sister Momeka is a gift to the world and a humanitarian whose work reminded me—when I met her in Iraq—of Mother Teresa,” said Moore, author of Defying ISIS and a key partner with the 21 Martyrs Campaign, created following the beheadings of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya earlier this year. "It is incomprehensible to me that the State Department would not be inviting Momeka on an official visit to the United States, as opposed to barring her from entry.”
Nina Shea of the Hudson Institute was also critical of the decision. In an online commentary, she wrote, “Earlier this week, we learned that every member of an Iraqi delegation of minority groups, including representatives of the Yazidi and Turkmen Shia religious communities, has been granted visas to come for official meetings in Washington—save one.
“The single delegate whose visitor visa was denied happens to be the group’s only Christian from Iraq. Sister Diana Momeka of the Dominican Sisters of Saint Catherine of Siena was informed on Tuesday by the US consulate in Erbil that her non-immigrant-visa application has been rejected.” Shea said the nun told her that her status as a displaced person was the reason she was given for the visa denial.
Chris Seiple, head of the Institute for Global Engagement, had hoped to assist Momeka during her US visit. Seiple posted on Facebook, “In the same week that the State Deptment says it will take the engagement of religious leaders seriously (as announced in its quadrennial review two days ago), it refuses a visa to a persecuted Christian nun who has fled ISIS, Sister Diana.”
Momeka was displaced from her home at the hands of ISIS. Some 50,000 other Christians from the Iraqi city of Qaraqosh were also forced to flee. The State Department typically does not comment publicly on individual visa applications. She has visited the United States before, including a trip to Chicago to deliver a commencement address at the Catholic Theological Union in 2012.