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(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!