Serving the “poorest of the poor” in Jordan

Bishop Selim Sayegh of Jordan

by Greg Kandra

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In January, an era drew to a close as the pope accepted the resignation of Bishop Selim Sayegh, Latin patriarchal vicar of Jordan, who last year reached the mandatory retirement age for bishops:75 years. Bishop Selim worked closely with CNEWA’s Pontifical Mission office in Amman for many years, particularly on a project that remains especially close to his heart. The Our Lady of Peace Center in Amman is a haven for children who are handicapped or developmentally disabled. As he prepared to embark on the next stage of his life, Bishop Selim took a few moments recently to answer some questions by e-mail and reflect on his ministry.

ONE: First, tell us a little bit of your background. Where did you grow up?

Bishop Selim Sayegh: I was born in a small village called Rumaimeen in 1935. This is a village surrounded by a lot of fruit trees and bushes, and gardens with a lot of springs. My father was a farmer whose income was not enough for the family, so he migrated in 1943 to Mafraq, where there was a station for the Iraq Petroleum Company. At that time, young people from Jordan, Palestine, Syria and Lebanon came looking for jobs, since this project was planning to pump petrol from Iraq through Jordan, then to the Port of Haifa in Palestine. In Mafraq, my father took to trading and shoe repairing, but did not succeed.

After finishing the fourth grade, I went from Mafraq to the [Latin] seminary in Beit Jala in 1947. In 1956, my eldest brother migrated to the United States, and the whole family followed in 1962.

ONE: You’ve said that you knew at a very young age that you wanted to be a priest. Tell us about that. What attracted you to the priesthood?

Bishop Selim Sayegh: Toward the end of the 1946-1947 school year, one of the seminary priests came to Mafraq to meet my cousin Issa, who showed interest in becoming a priest. However, his parents obtained visas to migrate to America. Issa went with them and forgot the idea of becoming a priest. Then the parish priest, Father Fouad Hijazeen, offered to send me to the seminary instead of Issa. At that time, I was visiting my uncle in Rumaimeen. My father took me from Rumaimeen to Mafraq at the end of the summer vacation. On the way he asked me, “Do you want to enter the seminary?” I said, “Yes, I do.”

Later, I discovered gradually that “Jesus who resides in the tabernacle” is the one who invites me to him.

ONE: One of your most important initiatives has been Our Lady of Peace Center in Amman. Where did you get the idea?

Bishop Selim Sayegh: Our Lady of Peace Center addressed two prominent needs of the church in Jordan. The first need is the service of the handicapped. The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem established its schools and charitable institutions in Jordan in the middle of the 19th century, but it has no institution or activity to look after the handicapped in Jordan. They are the poorest of the poor and most in need of services and help. I saw that the church should have a place to perform her duty and witness to Christian charity in this field. In 1992, we established a “Faith and Light” team, which is celebrating its 20th year of foundation in Jordan and its 40th year worldwide.

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Tags: Children Jordan Poor/Poverty Disabilities Personality profile