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Latin Parish of St. Pius X Serves Body and Soul

by Daoud Kuttab with photographs by Nader Daoud

Zerqa’ s Mother of Mercy Clinic stands within the same complex of buildings that makes up the several-thousand-strong parish of St. Pius X. The Latin parish, which makes up a part of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, is led by Father Ala’a Alamat, a native of the Jordanian city of Madaba, located 30 miles southwest of Amman.

Upon his graduation from the Latin Seminary in Beit Jala, near Bethlehem, and his ordination to the priesthood, Father Alamat served in another parish in Zerqa’s northern neighborhoods.

An ardent advocate for peace and unity, Father Alamat spoke out against the January war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, calling Zerqa’s Christians to come together in prayer for peace in Palestine. Held on 8 January, the service was well attended by Zerqa’s small but diverse Christian community.

“Humanity’s love for his fellow human being comes before any other order. And prayer for the enemy and the oppressed is the will of the Lord Jesus to all Christians,” said the 30-something pastor, stressing the importance of Christianity’s universal values of peace and justice.

Father Alamat has also reached out to the city’s Muslim spiritual leaders in an effort to establish common ground, regardless of creed.

“In our region of the world, the public has a high respect for men of the cloth,” said the priest, referring to Christian and Muslim clergy alike. The young priest insists that, despite profound theological differences, individuals can be brethren in nation as well as in faith and encourages anyone willing to listen to use the term in public discourse.

Next to the parish church, which was built decades ago with funds from generous benefactors of CNEWA, stands the parish grade school, which many in Zerqa consider among the best schools in the area. The school’s high standards, broad curriculum and first-rate teachers have attracted students from some of the area’s most influential families. According to Father Alamat, many senior government officials, successful business people as well as priests and bishops attended St. Pius or other schools operated by the Latin Patriarchate. Jamal, a tenth-grade student, said he travels from Amman every day, a 20-minute drive, to attend the school because of its great reputation.

The school enrolls 280 students from the first through the tenth grades. It also provides a nursery for preschool-age children. First established as an elementary school, it has successively added grades to accommodate its growing student body. Despite pressure from parents clamoring to enroll their children, a strict school policy never allows classroom size to exceed 30 students.

The school’s principal, Nadia Abu Hdeeb, would like to see the school expand and add the last two grades of secondary education. “The parents of our tenth graders are always unhappy that they have to look for another location to complete their children’s last two high school years,”she said.

While many students are Christian, most are in fact Muslim. Still, the school’s curriculum aims to instill all students with universal values, shared by both Christians and Muslims

For many parents, one of the school’s main attractions is that it integrates boys and girls from day one. In a predominantly Muslim country such a Jordan, parents who prefer a coeducational environment for their children have few options. St. Pius X is the only school in the area that offers a coeducational program beginning with first grade.

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