Iraqi Dominican Sister Luma teaches at the École Biblique

Sr. Luma Khudher, O.P.
Sr. Luma Khudher, O.P. is a member of the Saint Catherine of Siena Dominican Sisters in Iraq. She received her Ph.D. in Scripture from Notre Dame University in 2012. Since 2014, she has taught courses on Old Testament Prophetic Literature at the École Biblique. Fr. Jean Jacques Pérennès sat down with Sr. Luma for an interview.
What brought you to the Dominicans?
I had Dominican sisters in my family — I have cous-ins that are Dominicans — then I had Dominican sis-ters from pre-school through high school. In high school, two of them taught physics and religion classes, and they were very kind, they welcomed us in the convent after school, so we were with them after-wards, praying with them in the summer. I looked at the Francis-cans because there were Franciscans, but I just wanted to stay with the Dominicans. This was all in Karukosh. It was a Christian town; the government had allowed us to have religion classes all year long for all grades, so that’s why I had religion classes in public school. I entered when I was nineteen, in my first year of college, so I did my bachelors in science at the University of Mo-sul. I finished that while I was in the convent, and then I was sent back to my hometown to teach, so I taught for two years. The first year I taught in an all-girls high school, and the second year I taught in a boys school, and then I was sent to the U.S. to learn the language. I was to go work with the sisters — there was no intention of studying in the beginning — the Springfield Domini-cans, to learn the language, culture. It was like a cultural ex-change, getting to know other Dominicans.
So this would have been about 2002?
Exactly, and then I was supposed to stay only three years, but then the war broke out, and I could not go home. So I worked at St. Mary’s Catholic high school with the sisters in Chicago Heights, learned English, and then started a master’s degree in scripture at Catholic Theological Union.
When did the idea of going on for a Ph.D. arise?
When I finished my master’s, I was encouraged by CTU people a lot, so I was like, well, I’ll try it, and if I get a full-ride I’ll do it and if I don’t get a full ride, I won’t do it. I applied to four places and I got into three. Notre Dame was one of them, so I went to Notre Dame in 2007.
What did you think of Notre Dame?
I loved it. I didn’t like football; I only went to one game and they lost, so that made me feel guilty. The faculty there was great.
And you ended up writing on Micah?
Yes, salvation oracles in the eighth century. Micah was a exam-ple for dating the salvation oracles to the eighth century. Most salvation oracles are dated post-exilic, so I kind of defended the idea that they can be early.
How often did you go back to Iraq?
I used to go every three years, so it was interesting, because every time I would go to Iraq after three years, I would see that the country had taken ten steps back. I never went and felt like we had been advancing, that the war had done something good. Never. It always felt like we were going to the past, so I knew we were in trouble. I went back in the summer of 2012, and in the fall semester I started teaching in Iraq, in St. Ephraim’s Seminary, the Syriac seminary in my hometown, Karakosh, and the following year I taught at Babel College, a Chaldean and Syriac seminary in Ankawa. I taught there for one year, and then I was invited to the École Biblique.
You were invited here in 2014?
 It was the Master’s idea.
In the fall semester?
That’s what I decided. I still want to help in Iraq.
And between the time you were invited and the time you arrived, the world fell apart.
We were forced to flee at midnight on the Feast of the Transfigu-ration, August 6th, because of the pending arrival of ISIS. I was given the keys and was told to drive. We drove ten hours. It is normally an hour’s drive, but there were so many people. We didn’t take anything, thinking that we would be back, so when I came here to the École last year, I didn’t have a Bible, I didn’t have a pen, I didn’t have paper, I had nothing. We ran away at the beginning of August, and I arrived here around September 18 or 19.
And when you were done here, you went back to Iraq?
Yes. I teach there, but really, we are working with people, so it’s not like here, you sit and have all the time to do your research, your studies — it’s not like that there. You are preparing for your classes, but you don’t have time for doing any other thing be-cause there are other things you are supposed to do. I am not every day in the refugee camps; there was a lot of paperwork that I had to do for the community, because I know English, basically. We had a lot of donors from the U.S., so it was writing letters, thank-you letters, telling them how they can offer their help and things like that. But I did have a couple of days in the week that I would go to one of the refugee camps. And also I teach the sisters in formation, I give classes there, to the sisters in the novitiate and the sisters in temporary vows.

From IDF, Nov. 2015


(05 November 2015)