For many Christian refugees from Iraq and Syria now living in Jordan and Lebanon, this year’s Easter will be celebrated in the heart — but not necessarily on the table.
On a warm spring day in their bare apartment in the Al-Hashni neighborhood of Amman, Jordan, Sabhan Jinan Maqadas Hasso and Lina Safaa Najeeb Alkes Asahq smiled as they recalled past Easter feasts in their hometown of Mosul, Iraq, when the centerpiece of the meal was a lamb stuffed with meat and rice.
Best not to dwell on the past, said Hasso and Asahq. The family fled war-torn Mosul in early 2015 for Amman. As the young couple and their three young children await word of their official application for asylum and the possibility of new life in Europe or elsewhere, Easter will be a simple affair. Their celebration will be focused on religious observances at a nearby Syrian Catholic Church.
“The most important thing is to celebrate the Mass,” Asahq said. An Easter meal can await another year.
The immediate family is together — reason enough to give thanks. But any sense of stability in life is gone in the waiting and anxiety about their immigration status. “Inside there is no peace,” Hasso said. “It brings us sadness.”
A five-minute drive from Hasso and Asahq’s small walkup apartment is the home of Wilsin Salim Dawood Agla and Lina Behnam Majeed Hanusi and their young daughter. Like the other couple, they are Christians from Mosul, Iraq. Though new to Amman, they, like Asahq and Hasso, left Iraq because of threats from the so-called Islamic State group (ISIS), aerial bombardments and other acts of violence that made living an unwelcome test and endurance.
The mood is uncertain. Yet Hanusi in particular takes comfort from attending Mass daily and in the assurance, she said confidently, that God has not forgotten her family — and never will. “God will not abandon us,” Hanusi said. “God will not leave us. We are sure he will help us get out of this situation.”
...Sr. Nesreen Dababneh, a Jordanian nun who works at a Caritas clinic for refugees in the neighborhood, calls this kind of faith “touchable” because it is deeply felt, an example of incarnation.
“Easter is the most appropriate feast for this time of year,” she said, because it is Easter, not Christmas, that tries to make sense of the mystery of how to live amid pain. “It’s not a philosophy, it’s a reality,” said Dababneh, a psychologist by training who oversees a program to help refugees with trauma and other effects of war, flight and displacement.
...“This is his [Jesus’] land, and we are his people,” said Marlene Constantin, a project manager at Catholic Near East Welfare Association/Pontifical Mission. As she reflects on this year’s Easter, she thinks it is essential for all Christians to embrace the essential teachings of Jesus. “These problems we face in the region are far from his experience and teaching,” Constantin said. “I think everything starts from that point.”
She worries about the “power of evil” and the “evil stance” she sees in the region now. The Christian community often feels under threat. And yet, she believes Easter’s quintessential message is that “even with these problems, Jesus will not abandon us.” So she continues to affirm her faith.