18 June 2013
Father Mansour Mattosha is the only priest in his Syriac Catholic parish. (photo: Cory Eldridge)
Cory Eldridge wrote about the plight of Iraqi refugees in Jordan for the Spring 2013 issue of ONE. One of the people he met was a very busy Syriac Catholic priest.
After Father Mansour Mattosha spent a day driving around Amman visiting parish families, a Jesuit school and then finally his small Syriac Catholic church, I was worried about him. The priest has been in Amman for three and a half years, which makes him the longest-serving priest in the parish’s 64 years. The majority of his parishioners are Iraqi Christians, refugees who have fled horrific violence, destroyed neighborhoods and broken communities. Most of them arrive with just a few thousand dollars, usually made from selling a home and all the non-transportable valuables they own. They arrive in Amman separated from their families, friends and a land their ancestors have called home for thousands of years.
Father Mattosha cares for his community with inspiring humor and humility. One of the first things he told me when he picked me up in his very used Toyota Corolla was that most of the families who made up the founding members of the parish — Palestinians who fled the 1948 War — had left the Syriac Catholic Church. There had only been a handful of priests over the years. The families either went to the Latin churches in the city, keeping their ties to Catholicism, or they went to the Syriac Orthodox Church, keeping their language and liturgy. “This is our fault,” Father Mattosha said, meaning the tiny Syriac Catholic Church that has few resources. “It’s not their fault. There was no priest to marry the young people, do baptisms or celebrate Mass.”
After going around town, we finished our day in the dining room of his exceedingly tidy apartment, just a door or two away from the chapel. The parish cannot afford a caretaker for the church. He served me tea while he drank hot water to stave off the cold, saying he cannot drink more than a sip of tea without becoming wired.
Then he told me about his cousin who had been kidnapped. Like most of his congregation, Father Mattosha comes from a small city called Qaraqosh, just outside Mosul in northern Iraq. His cousin, a chicken farmer named Ghassan, was abducted. The criminals, as Father Mattosha calls them, demanded $30,000. He chipped in money, along with his brothers, to ransom Ghassan. Luckily, the kidnappers kept their word and released Ghassan.
That was when I became concerned for Father Mattosha. He has suffered many of the same losses as his parishioners and then in the course of his ministry he suffers theirs as well. After a day of doing pastoral work, he is left to his church, his prayers, and his thoughts. I asked him who ministers to the priest.
“What can you do?” he said and smiled. “You complain to God, to Jesus. Thank God the church is next door. I can go there. But I am mature enough for it.”
Being alone at the church, he says, helps him better understand his parishioners. It is a lonely life away from home.
15 May 2013
Tags: Iraqi Christians Jordan Iraqi Refugees Amman Syriac Christians
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In this picture, taken last August, a Comboni nun watches over newborns at the Italian Hospital in Kerak, Jordan. (photo: John E. Kozar)
With the crisis in Syria growing worse by the day, one beacon of hope remains the CNEWA-supported Italian Hospital in Kerak, Jordan. Recently, Asia News profiled the hospital and the Comboni sisters who run it:
The war in Syria and the overcrowding in refugee camps are forcing more people to seek “salvation” in the Jordanian desert hundreds of miles from the capital Amman and the Syrian border. Interviewed by AsiaNews, Sister Adele Fumagalli, a Comboni religious in the Italian Hospital, describes the tragedy of those who are trying to escape from the horrors of war and the refugee camps. Every day the hospital opens its doors to dozens of pregnant women, orphaned children, young fathers whose dying wives have entrusted their children to them. “In the evening and in the morning,” says Sister Adele, “when we are in the chapel, our first thoughts go to those who have crossed the desert to escape in the night … we base our service on charity and we welcome these people who are struggling in silence.”
The nun confesses that the people in the refugee camps are experiencing a dramatic situation of great urgency and insecurity. According to the religious, refugees in Jordan are about 10 percent of the population and this will force the Hashemite kingdom to open new camps, but the resources of the small state may not be enough, which in less than a year has welcomed more than 500,000 Syrians. The population is beginning to demand other solutions and in recent weeks there have been numerous protests in various cities in the country. For humanitarian agencies, including the United Nations, water supply, sanitation, education, medical care will no longer be guaranteed in a few months. To survive, many have fled to Amman. Says Sister Adele: “On the road leading to the capital there are many Syrian children, that were separated from their families during the trip. They are completely left to themselves. To survive they sell cigarettes, tea, or beg passers-by.”
There are currently over 30,000 Syrians who have settled in the province of Kerak. In January, there were about 10,000. Most are people who have not found a place in the Zarqa refugee camp, in the north of the country, others come directly from Syria. The lucky ones live in small homes for rent. Up to three families with several children live in a single apartment. Sometimes they also bring the elderly or sick people with them. …
Founded in 1939, the Italian Hospital of Kerak is the only equipped clinic in the region and has about 40 beds. It is supported by the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), the special Vatican agency for aid to Catholic Churches and the peoples of the Middle East. To address the emergency in Syria the structure along with Caritas and UNHCR has established a program of assistance and shelter for the needy and the sick.
”Other local organizations ask for our cooperation,” explains Sister Adele Fumagalli. “Our hospital remains the reference point for the southern part of Jordan. Our service continues with the support of the Church and of our generous benefactors.“
There’s much more at the link.
To learn how to help Syrian refugees, visit our Emergency: Syria page.
29 August 2012
Tags: CNEWA Jordan Health Care Italian Hospital Comboni Sisters
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Women and their children sign in at the lobby of the Mother of Mercy Clinic in Zerqa, Jordan. (photo: Greg Tarczynski)
The Mother of Mercy Clinic, run by the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, specializes in prenatal and postnatal care. The clinic offers impoverished mothers and babies health care during a crucial period for mother and child:
In an examining room at the Mother of Mercy Clinic in Zerqa, Jordan, Dr. Ibrahim Ghabeish puzzles over a patient’s condition. Somehow Salah, a 3-day-old infant, has contracted dysentery. The infection is relatively common among adults in Zerqa; usually it is contracted by consuming food that has been contaminated by dirty water. But how could an infant, whose only nourishment is his mother’s milk, get infected? After questioning the child’s 25-year-old mother, Maha, Dr. Ghabeish put together a likely scenario.
“The child’ mother was cutting up carrots washed in contaminated water,” he explained. “When Salah started to cry, she brought him to be nursed without washing her hands. She must have transferred the disease when she prepared to nurse him.”
Established in 1982, Mother of Mercy Clinic offers a wide range of general heath care services to thousands of patients — over 26,000 in 2008 — regardless of creed or origin. The clinic, however, specializes in prenatal and postnatal care, giving priority to needy mothers and their infants.
To learn more about the clinic, read our article in the May 2009 issue of ONE, Mothering Mercies. To learn how you can help support the work of the Mother of Mercy Clinic, visit our website.
25 July 2012
Tags: Children Middle East Jordan Health Care
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In this 2005 photo, a couple admires the late afternoon view of the the King Talal dam on the Zarqa River, the second largest tributary of the Jordan River. The river is heavily polluted and restoration is the Jordanian governments top priority. (photo: Greg Tarczynski)
Tradition and scripture both hold that Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. To this day, countless Christians from around the world flock to the river and consider its waters sacred. The Jordan, though, is nothing like it once was. It is polluted and stagnant. The Israeli government hopes to change that:
“It’s five percent of what once flowed,” said Ben Ari, who is one of the rehabilitation project leaders. "You can easily walk across without getting your head wet."
Almost all the water that feeds the river is diverted by Syria, Jordan and Israel before it reaches the south, he explained.
But for the first time, Israel — which is two-thirds arid and has battled drought since its establishment 64 years ago — has a water surplus.
This follows decades of massive investment in the country’s water infrastructure. It re-uses 75 percent of its wastewater, mostly for agriculture, and by next year, 85 percent of drinking water will come from desalination plants.
The Israeli government has chosen to use this bounty to rehabilitate the countrys rivers. The Jordan tops the list.
An average of 150 million cubic meters of water will be returned each year, said Energy and Water Minister Uzi Landau when he announced the plan a few weeks ago.
“That way in ten years, we will erase our debt (to nature),” he said.
For more, read the Reuters article, Israel plans to revive ailing Jordan river. To learn more about the Jordan River, read On Jordan’s Banks in the January 2011 issue of ONE.
12 July 2012
Tags: Israel Jordan Revival/restoration Baptism
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Bedouin men perform at a restaurant in Amman, Jordan. (photo: Greg Tarczynksi)
Yesterday, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra played a concert in the Apostolic Palace of Castelgandolfo to celebrate the feast of St. Benedict, patron of Europe. Pope Benedict XVI spoke afterward, thanking the performers and reflecting on the unifying effect of music:
“Music,”, the pontiff continued, “is the harmony of differences … from the multiplicity of tones of the various instruments a symphony can arise. However, this doesn’t happen magically or automatically. It comes only from … a patient and laborious commitment, which requires time and sacrifices in the effort to listen to one another, avoiding excessive egoism and privileging the best success of the whole.”
Continuing, the Pope emphasized that the symphonies that were performed, Beethoven’s Fifth and Sixth, express two aspects of life: “drama and peace; humanity’s struggle against adversity and its enlightening immersion in a bucolic environment. The message I would like to draw from it for today is this: to achieve peace we must dedicate ourselves to dialogue with a personal and communal conversion, patiently seeking possible areas of understanding.”
For more, read Universal Language of Music, Hope for Peace from the Vatican News Service.
9 July 2012
Tags: Middle East Pope Benedict XVI Cultural Identity Jordan Amman
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Parishioners gather outside the Immaculate Conception Church in Smakieh, Jordan.
(photo: John E. Kozar)
Back in December, Msgr. John Kozar made his first pastoral visit to the Holy Land as CNEWA’s president. While visiting with people and church leaders who are a part of the CNEWA family, he also gained a deeper understanding of the traditions and cultures that permeate this community of Christians. One stop included the village of Smakieh in Jordan, where he took part in an ordination:
A couple of impressive sights from the ceremony: Being welcomed outside the church as we arrived with the archbishop by all the men removing the agal, or cord, from their kaffiyeh, a traditional head covering. It was a sign of deepest respect given to us. The men were robust in their handshakes and in their welcoming.
After the ceremony, after all the elders and people of the parish had personally greeted the new deacon and given him a kiss on each cheek, a group of younger parishioners hoisted the deacon on their shoulders and began dancing to the beat of their chanting which created a most festive mood.
The village of Smakieh is entirely Christian, which is rare in this Muslim kingdom. There are only two families of Bedouin living in the village, the Latin Hijazine family and the Melkite Akasheh family. Between these two families they have offered 14 priests in service to the church. Added to this are the number of Catholic and Orthodox priests that have come from neighboring Bedouin towns, such as Raba and Ader, who basically supplied much of the entire presbyterate for Jordan and Israel and Palestine. God is good all the time and all the time God is good.
If you haven’t done so already, check out Msgr. Kozar’s blog series from his Holy Land visit,“Journey to the Holy Land.”
20 June 2012
Tags: Middle East Cultural Identity Jordan Bedouin
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A man makes an icon at the Immaculate Conception Church in Jordan, which is undergoing major restoration sponsored by CNEWA. (photo: John E. Kozar)
Back in December, Msgr. John E. Kozar, CNEWA’s president, made his first pastoral visit to the Holy Land. Along the way, he visited many people and projects vital to CNEWA’s mission, such as the Immaculate Conception Melkite Greek Catholic parish in Jordan:
From the hospital we went to visit the Melkite Greek Catholic pastor of Immaculate Conception Church, Abuna Boulos (or Father Paul), and were joined there by Archbishop Yasser Ayyash and some other priests. We had a delightful lunch, where I learned much about the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. When I entered the rectory, Father Boulos immediately introduced me to his wife, as it is the Melkite tradition for priests to marry before ordination. After a brief visit to the church, which is finishing up a major restoration project sponsored by CNEWA, we headed for the Bedouin village of Smakieh for the highlight of the day and the spiritual highlight of this pastoral visit thus far.
We were invited by the archbishop and Abuna Boulos to concelebrate at the ordination liturgy for a subdeacon and deacon. What an honor for Father Guido and myself. Not only did the archbishop make us feel welcome, he even vested us in the Melkite vestments used for their liturgy. It was a very proud moment for both of us.
For more, read Msgr. Kozar’s blog series “Journey to the Holy Land.”
11 June 2012
Tags: CNEWA Middle East Christians Middle East Jordan Melkite Greek Catholic Church
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Three students pose for a portrait at a Latin Catholic school in Ader, Jordan.
(photo: Tanya Habjouqa)
In the May edition of ONE, journalist Nicholas Seeley visited some of Jordan’s remaining Christian villages and reported on efforts to uphold the faith and adjust to a changing world:
“I have five engineers — boys and girls — out of nine.” He grins proudly as he lists their accomplishments: one works as an agricultural engineer for the army, another teaches in Amman, a third is an engineer in Abu Dhabi. The other children are in high school and college. His wife teaches in Smakieh’s public schools.
“All scientific knowledge has come to us through the church,” says Mr. Hijazine. “We, as Christians, want to be the best in the area.”
For years, he says, people from Smakieh have left to pursue higher education, a choice the local church has always encouraged. “They came back bringing new ideas and information with them,” continues the educator. “They tried to make us understand or to explain to us how the rest of the world was working and changing. So everything came to us either through the church or through the people who came back.”
For more, read A Bridge to Modern Life.
5 June 2012
Tags: Jordan ONE magazine Catholic Schools Bedouin
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In this 1998 photo, a Bedouin shepherd leads his flock out of Smakieh to graze.
(photo: George Martin)
Contributor Nicholas Seeley covers events in the Middle East. To read more about Jordan's Christian villages, see his latest article, A Bridge to Modern Life, appearing in the May 2012 issue of ONE.
The Christian village of Hmoud seems deserted. My translator and I have been told not to expect much; residents of Smakieh, the next village over, have warned us that only a handful of people still live here, many of them elderly. Still, the emptiness of the streets is surprising. It is not abandonment; the tiny cinderblock houses are well kept and the roads are clean, but there is no one in sight.
This is particularly odd because the day is beautiful — it is surprisingly warm for early March, but not baking, and the sky is still scattered with a few puffy clouds, a last hint of the rainy season before the long, dry Jordanian summer begins.
Some villagers may still be in church — Friday morning Divine Liturgies in Jordan are often well attended, since it is the Muslim holiday, and most people have the day off from work — but there are only two cars in the street outside the Orthodox church, and almost none visible in town. Finally, we pass one yard where a family sits on plastic chairs, chatting and soaking in the sun. Finding no one else about, we stop and say hello. We explain that we’re reporters, doing a story about the area’s Christians, and soon we are sitting with them, enjoying the morning sun and learning about the lives of our hosts.
As it happens, this is the family of the local Orthodox priest, Father Sami Halasa: his wife Alice, his son Sameer and his daughter-in-law Fidaa, as well as his adult grandchildren, Lydia and Amer, who have driven in from Amman for this weekend lunch. Right now they’re all waiting for Father Sami to return from the church. As they do, they talk about the history of their family — from the arrival of the Halasa tribe from Egypt centuries before to their success today as doctors and lawyers, government ministers in Jordan and successful professionals who have spread to dozens of countries around the world.
In many ways, this is the story of Jordan’s Christians. We came to Smakieh and Hmoud, the last fully Christian villages in Jordan, expecting to find Bedouin Christians clinging desperately to the remnants of their old traditions and way of life. Instead, we found people whose outlook is particularly cosmopolitan, people who for generations have very explicitly embraced education, travel and commerce as the way to a better life. They hold fast to their Christian identity — not by clinging to the past, but by trying to improve themselves and the world.
At least, most of them do. After perhaps 20 minutes, the Divine Liturgy ends and Father Sami emerges — a solitary, black-clad figure walking slowly down the street from the church. He greets us briefly and steps inside to change. The family, we discern, is about to have lunch. As we begin to excuse ourselves, Father Sami suddenly re-emerges. Now in casual pants and a priest’s collared shirt, he settles into a deck chair and insists on being interviewed.
Advanced in years, Father Sami holds a distinctly traditional point of view. Life in the village was much better in the past, he announces — before all these machines and cars and tractors. The modern world is a corrupting influence, and people are moving away from the faith. Everyone now is obsessed with money and possessions, gradually losing respect for religion; even today, he says, gesturing toward the church, there were only three people at the Divine Liturgy. His family smiles, but there is some tension in the air; they do not all, perhaps, see eye-to-eye on this. Nor would we expect it; here, in this village, in this family, is a microcosm of one of the great struggles consuming faith communities today. Is the modernity of a globalized consumer society a blessing or a curse? How much of it should one embrace, and how far?
Father Sami’s speech ends abruptly. “I’m hungry,” he says. “You must come for lunch.” We try once more to excuse ourselves, but the Halasas won’t have it; we are guests and therefore must be fed — preferably until we cannot stand up.
As a very strict vegetarian, I have difficulties with Arab hospitality; there is little on offer that I can eat and people are often unfamiliar with vegetarian cooking. My visits usually end up being so difficult for everyone that I avoid them. But as we try to explain this problem, Fidaa Halasa smiles at me. It’s Lent, she reminds me, and in Lent, they cook without meat or cheese or eggs. There are no animal products in their Friday lunch. With pleasure, we accept and spend the next hour in their small, homey living room, being stuffed with delicious maqloobeh — a traditional Palestinian dish of rice, cauliflower and eggplant — plus salad, bread and softball-sized fresh oranges. After lunch, Father Sami produces a battered 1980’s vintage radio and sits hunched over it, listening to the news at immense volume while Lydia and Amer talk about their school and Fidaa talks about her family.
For a moment, all questions of modernity and the state of the faith are shelved. This is Arab hospitality, and it is one tradition of the desert and the nomadic life that has never been put aside. Guests must be welcomed, must be given food and water, and it is by this welcome that one is judged.
Some things never change.
29 May 2012
Tags: Middle East Christians Jordan Village life Christian
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A Rosary sister greets a Bedouin child in the abandoned ruins of old Smakieh.
(photo: Tanya Habjouqa)
In the current edition of ONE, journalist Nicholas Seeley reports on life for Bedouins in Jordan’s last Christian villages:
The local church has played a central role in transforming life on the Kerak plateau and ensuring its residents had the education and values to thrive in the modern world. Since the early 20th century, residents have enrolled their children in local Latin Catholic schools, where they received a well-rounded education. The schools have always included the study of foreign language as an integral component of the curriculum, which has helped younger generations succeed in the global job market.
In the early days, priests helped the tribes establish permanent settlements. And nuns taught women to read and write and encouraged them to pursue education.
Father Tarek Abu Hanna, Smakieh’s Latin parish priest, points out that the church not only ran the school, but helped families in other material ways. For example, the school provided meals to the children during the day. Indeed, Teresa Ghasan says that as a child, the only time she ate well was at school.
For more, check out A Bridge to Modern Life in the May edition of ONE.
Tags: Children Jordan ONE magazine Bedouin
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