Meet Jordan’s Bishop Selim Sayegh

by Nicholas Seeley

Visiting a classroom at the Our Lady of Peace Center in Amman, Jordan, Bishop Selim Sayegh sticks his tongue out, earning a smile from the children who eagerly cluster around him. Two little boys stretch out their hands to the bishop; he takes the hand of each and the three swing their linked arms, grinning at each other.

Operated by the Latin Vicariate in Jordan, Our Lady of Peace houses a free school and physical therapy clinic for developmentally disabled children. The center offers its programs free of charge to Jordanians of all creeds.

According to the center’s president and general manager, Majdi Dayyat, Bishop Sayegh first had the idea to establish such an institution more than 20 years ago. From that time, it took more than 12 years to gather enough funding for the center to be built and become operational. Maintaining the center is also ongoing struggle. Our Lady of Peace costs upwards of $200,000 a year to run, most of which comes from charitable donations.

A deeply pious yet cheerful man, the bishop has followed Godís will with as much good humor as devotion since adolescence. One day at the age of 11 or 12, his father asked him if he wanted to study to become a priest. The young Selim Sayegh immediately replied, “yes,” without even thinking about it.

“Why I said ‘yes,’ I don’t know,” he adds. “Really, I don’t know. It is divine — God’s hand — that’s it.”

As part of its outreach program, the center has established committees all over the country that advocate for the rights and interests of Jordan’s disabled. The committees organize marches and other events aimed at de-stigmatizing disabilities as well as workshops on disability law and training sessions for those work with the disabled. The center’s services and programs has the added benefit of bringing together the country’s Christian and Muslim communities under a common cause.

“The Lord gave us the idea to reach out to the families and to raise awareness about the handicapped people, about their dignity: to be treated as a member of the family; to not be ashamed to take them outside in society,” explains Bishop Sayegh. “If we reach them, this is the biggest victory for us here.”

The need for services for the disabled in Jordan is great. While accurate statistics are unavailable, some researches believe that as many as 12.5 percent of the country’s 6.3 million people are disabled in some way. Bishop Sayegh insists that Jordan ranks among the best countries in the Arab world in terms of respecting the rights of the disabled, though it still faces huge challenges.

About 163 centers serving the persons with disabilities operate around the country. Combined, the centers reach only a tiny fraction of the hundreds of thousands in need. Most of them are overcrowded and new clients must wait extended periods on long waiting lists before receiving attention.

“The most [important] thing, for these poor children — for these angels, I call them — is to let them feel that they are loved,” say Bishop Sayegh. “They need love, and that’s it. And then they are happy. Spiritually, psychologically, they give us much more than we give them.”

The bishop says he never once entertained a doubt about his vocation in the roughly 63 years since that fateful moment. Today, he serves as the patriarchateís vicar general for Jordan. And yet despite his many achievements, Bishop Sayegh considers his work with Our Lady of Peace Center his most meaningful endeavor.

“The only time we see him smile is when he joins the activities of the center,” Mr. Dayyat adds playfully.

Nicholas Seeley is a freelance writer based in Amman.

Back >>