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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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Bernadette Soubirous: Bernadette Soubirous was born in 1844, the first child of an extremely poor miller in the town of Lourdes in southern France. The family was living in the basement of a dilapidated building when on February 11,1858, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette in a cave above the banks of the Gave River near Lourdes. Bernadette, 14 years old, was known as a virtuous girl though a dull student who had not even made her first Holy Communion. In poor health, she had suffered from asthma from an early age. 
<p>There were 18 appearances in all, the final one occurring on the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, July 16. Although Bernadette's initial reports provoked skepticism, her daily visions of "the Lady" brought great crowds of the curious. The Lady, Bernadette explained, had instructed her to have a chapel built on the spot of the visions. There the people were to come to wash in and drink of the water of the spring that had welled up from the very spot where Bernadette had been instructed to dig. </p><p>According to Bernadette, the Lady of her visions was a girl of 16 or 17 who wore a white robe with a blue sash. Yellow roses covered her feet, a large rosary was on her right arm. In the vision on March 25 she told Bernadette, "I am the Immaculate Conception." It was only when the words were explained to her that Bernadette came to realize who the Lady was. </p><p>Few visions have ever undergone the scrutiny that these appearances of the Immaculate Virgin were subject to. Lourdes became one of the most popular Marian shrines in the world, attracting millions of visitors. Miracles were reported at the shrine and in the waters of the spring. After thorough investigation Church authorities confirmed the authenticity of the apparitions in 1862. </p><p>During her life Bernadette suffered much. She was hounded by the public as well as by civic officials until at last she was protected in a convent of nuns. Five years later she petitioned to enter the Sisters of Notre Dame. After a period of illness she was able to make the journey from Lourdes and enter the novitiate. But within four months of her arrival she was given the last rites of the Church and allowed to profess her vows. She recovered enough to become infirmarian and then sacristan, but chronic health problems persisted. She died on April 16, 1879, at the age of 35. </p><p>She was canonized in 1933.</p> American Catholic Blog In humility, a woman ultimately forgets 
herself; forgets both her shortcomings and accomplishments equally and 
strives to remain empty of self to make room for Jesus, just as Mary 
did.


 
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