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John Feister reports for AmericanCatholic.org on visits to several small towns near Jordan, including Mass with Archbishop Yassir Ayash and a visit to a hospital run by the Comboni Sisters.

Special Features
Day 2: Smakieh, Ader,
Kerack City


(photo by John Feister)

It was an early start this morning for a travel-weary group. First goal? 10:30 Mass in a small town about 90 minutes out into the desert. We arrived just in time to Smakieh, a Bedouin village in an area that used to be more than 50 percent Christian but now is only about three percent. The Bedouins are a nomadic herding people who live three or four months out of the year in their tents, bringing their herds of sheep and goats to grazing areas far and few between in this desert. We saw goats apparently finding food in the sandy landscape—but it was hard to see! At one point we watched a whirlwind of sand stir up and streak off into the sky. It reminded me of the biblical stories of God’s presence in the desert.

The Mass in Smakieh was in a Melkite Catholic parish, sung in the Greek rite between presiders and congregation from books that were written in Arabic. The Archbishop of Jordan gave his homily in Arabic, but broke into English to plead the case for understanding the unique culture of his local church. Catholic, after all, is a word for all sorts of cultural traditions.



Mass was followed by a Mansa, a fantastic feast highlighted by large open dishes of goat, rice, nuts and yogurt, served by parishioners in the parish hall. We were given the option to use plates and spoons; I stood around one of several tables with the parishioners eating by hand. It was fantastic! Such a sense of community. I cleaned off my pinkie enough to snap a few photos—we’ll get them up on this site when a spare minute appears!

I also had a neat experience with a local Orthodox priest,Fr. Fadi Halasa,who was visiting for the Mass (it’s a very ecumenical town!). After giving me a prayer card with an icon of St. Constantine and his mother, he translated the Arabic prayer on the back of the card into my digital recorder. Then he broke into song. After all, prayers are meant to be sung in this part of the world! (Click here to listen)

After a quick stop for coffee and conversation at the Latina (Roman Catholic) parish in nearby Ader, we headed off to Kerack City, an hour farther along the way. There we met the Comboni sisters who run a small hospital for a good-sized town. Allesandra and 6 other sisters there are joyful women—it was truly an amazing encounter! Doctors and surgeons came to visit, too. They dream of expanding their dramatically inadequate maternity ward. This 38-bed hospital conducts 4,000 surgeries each year and delivers 1,000 babies! Alessandra held a newborn and her normally cheerful face lit up even more.



We finished the visit with more coffee and conversation, then got back on our bus for the ride home.

What a day! We started at 8 am; got back to the hotel for dinner at 9 pm. Then we all headed off to our rooms to file our stories. What a privilege it is to share this experience with you!

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Jacopone da Todi: Jacomo, or James, was born a noble member of the Benedetti family in the northern Italian city of Todi. He became a successful lawyer and married a pious, generous lady named Vanna. 
<p>His young wife took it upon herself to do penance for the worldly excesses of her husband. One day Vanna, at the insistence of Jacomo, attended a public tournament. She was sitting in the stands with the other noble ladies when the stands collapsed. Vanna was killed. Her shaken husband was even more disturbed when he realized that the penitential girdle she wore was for his sinfulness. On the spot, he vowed to radically change his life. </p><p>He divided his possessions among the poor and entered the Secular Franciscan Order (once known as the Third Order). Often dressed in penitential rags, he was mocked as a fool and called Jacopone, or "Crazy Jim," by his former associates. The name became dear to him. </p><p>After 10 years of such humiliation, Jacopone asked to be a member of the Order of Friars Minor(First Order). Because of his reputation, his request was initially refused. He composed a beautiful poem on the vanities of the world, an act that eventually led to his admission into the Order in 1278. He continued to lead a life of strict penance, declining to be ordained a priest. Meanwhile he was writing popular hymns in the vernacular. </p><p>Jacopone suddenly found himself a leader in a disturbing religious movement among the Franciscans. The Spirituals, as they were called, wanted a return to the strict poverty of Francis. They had on their side two cardinals of the Church and Pope Celestine V. These two cardinals, though, opposed Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII. At the age of 68, Jacopone was excommunicated and imprisoned. Although he acknowledged his mistake, Jacopone was not absolved and released until Benedict XI became pope five years later. He had accepted his imprisonment as penance. He spent the final three years of his life more spiritual than ever, weeping "because Love is not loved." During this time he wrote the famous Latin hymn, <i>Stabat Mater</i>. </p><p>On Christmas Eve in 1306 Jacopone felt that his end was near. He was in a convent of the Poor Clares with his friend, Blessed John of La Verna. Like Francis, Jacopone welcomed "Sister Death" with one of his favorite songs. It is said that he finished the song and died as the priest intoned the Gloria from the midnight Mass at Christmas. From the time of his death, Brother Jacopone has been venerated as a saint.</p> American Catholic Blog By immersing our lives in the rhythm of the season, charity can flood our souls and fill us with the happiness for which we were created. We awake Christmas morning prepared to celebrate the birth of our Savior not as a memory but as a profound experience of God’s redemptive love.


 
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