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Profile of a Jordanian Priest

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Father Bulos al Bagain holds a child for a blessing after a liturgy at Sts. Peter and Paul Melkite Catholic Church in the Bedouin village of Smakieh, Jordan, Sept. 19. The village is located in a rugged desert region outside of Amman. (Photo: CNS/Paul Haring)  

12 Oct 2010 – By Mark Pattison

SMAKIEH, Jordan (CNS) — Driving to the small town of Smakieh, about two hours by bus from the Jordanian capital of Amman, one can see the growing number of tent communities as the region becomes less urban and less populated.

These are the Bedouins, long tied to the land but rarely tied to any one parcel of land as they tend to their flocks of sheep or goats, relentlessly moving to the next patch of grazing land.

Melkite Father Bulos al Bagain comes from the Bedouins, living “in the tent,” he laughs. Married with a wife and young children, he’s made his peace with having a roof over his head — and Internet access to boot — at the rectory of Sts. Peter and Paul, the Melkite parish in Smakieh, just across the street from St. Michael, the Latin-rite parish in the heavily Christian village.

“If you are ‘in the tent,’ you stay with your family for life, or your wife’s family,” he explained. But in Smakieh, he has been pastor for close to 20 years. Unlike most U.S. Latin-rite dioceses, where parish priests have a six-year assignment, Eastern churches — especially in their native land — assign priests to a parish for life.

“This is my family,” Father al Bagain said, gesturing with one hand toward the window to indicate the village.

“No matter where we are, we show hospitality,” he added.

One example of this is a traditional Bedouin dish known as masfan: a collection of yellow rice and mutton, suffused with warm yogurt gravy. People grab a small handful of gravy-laden rice and a piece of lamb and mold the concoction into a ball — even giving it a few short tosses to solidify it. Because it would be a display of ill manners to put fingers into the mouth to eat masfan, Bedouins place the ball on the top of the thumbnail and use the thumb to pop the ball into the mouth. The most honored guest gets to eat the tongue still attached to the lamb’s skull, which serves as the platter’s centerpiece.

As part of his Bedouin hospitality, Father al Bagain would have to stand and eat masfan as long as guests are still standing around the platter, eating.

“But it is a sign of honor to be well fed,” he chuckled, patting his belly.

The priest said he ultimately found it not too difficult to leave the tent life.

“I am following God,” he said. “It is a journey all the same.”