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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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Angela Merici: Angela has the double distinction of founding the first teaching congregation of women in the Church and what is now called a “secular institute” of religious women. 
<p>As a young woman she became a member of the Third Order of St. Francis (now known as the Secular Franciscan Order), and lived a life of great austerity, wishing, like St. Francis, to own nothing, not even a bed. Early in life she was appalled at the ignorance among poorer children, whose parents could not or would not teach them the elements of religion. Angela’s charming manner and good looks complemented her natural qualities of leadership. Others joined her in giving regular instruction to the little girls of their neighborhood. </p><p>She was invited to live with a family in Brescia (where, she had been told in a vision, she would one day found a religious community). Her work continued and became well known. She became the center of a group of people with similar ideals. </p><p>She eagerly took the opportunity for a trip to the Holy Land. When they had gotten as far as Crete, she was struck with blindness. Her friends wanted to return home, but she insisted on going through with the pilgrimage, and visited the sacred shrines with as much devotion and enthusiasm as if she had her sight. On the way back, while praying before a crucifix, her sight was restored at the same place where it had been lost. </p><p>At 57, she organized a group of 12 girls to help her in catechetical work. Four years later the group had increased to 28. She formed them into the Company of St. Ursula (patroness of medieval universities and venerated as a leader of women) for the purpose of re-Christianizing family life through solid Christian education of future wives and mothers. The members continued to live at home, had no special habit and took no formal vows, though the early Rule prescribed the practice of virginity, poverty and obedience. The idea of a teaching congregation of women was new and took time to develop. The community thus existed as a “secular institute” until some years after Angela’s death.</p> American Catholic Blog I hear far more people discuss the presence of evil in their lives than they do the supreme power of grace. God is bigger than evil!


 
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