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John Feister reports for 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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Francis of Assisi: Francis of Assisi was a poor little man who astounded and inspired the Church by taking the gospel literally—not in a narrow fundamentalist sense, but by actually following all that Jesus said and did, joyfully, without limit and without a sense of self-importance. 
<p>Serious illness brought the young Francis to see the emptiness of his frolicking life as leader of Assisi's youth. Prayer—lengthy and difficult—led him to a self-emptying like that of Christ, climaxed by embracing a leper he met on the road. It symbolized his complete obedience to what he had heard in prayer: "Francis! Everything you have loved and desired in the flesh it is your duty to despise and hate, if you wish to know my will. And when you have begun this, all that now seems sweet and lovely to you will become intolerable and bitter, but all that you used to avoid will turn itself to great sweetness and exceeding joy." </p><p>From the cross in the neglected field-chapel of San Damiano, Christ told him, "Francis, go out and build up my house, for it is nearly falling down." Francis became the totally poor and humble workman. </p><p>He must have suspected a deeper meaning to "build up my house." But he would have been content to be for the rest of his life the poor "nothing" man actually putting brick on brick in abandoned chapels. He gave up all his possessions, piling even his clothes before his earthly father (who was demanding restitution for Francis' "gifts" to the poor) so that he would be totally free to say, "Our Father in heaven." He was, for a time, considered to be a religious fanatic, begging from door to door when he could not get money for his work, evokng sadness or disgust to the hearts of his former friends, ridicule from the unthinking. </p><p>But genuineness will tell. A few people began to realize that this man was actually trying to be Christian. He really believed what Jesus said: "Announce the kingdom! Possess no gold or silver or copper in your purses, no traveling bag, no sandals, no staff" (Luke 9:1-3). </p><p>Francis' first rule for his followers was a collection of texts from the Gospels. He had no idea of founding an order, but once it began he protected it and accepted all the legal structures needed to support it. His devotion and loyalty to the Church were absolute and highly exemplary at a time when various movements of reform tended to break the Church's unity. </p><p>He was torn between a life devoted entirely to prayer and a life of active preaching of the Good News. He decided in favor of the latter, but always returned to solitude when he could. He wanted to be a missionary in Syria or in Africa, but was prevented by shipwreck and illness in both cases. He did try to convert the sultan of Egypt during the Fifth Crusade. </p><p>During the last years of his relatively short life (he died at 44), he was half blind and seriously ill. Two years before his death, he received the stigmata, the real and painful wounds of Christ in his hands, feet and side. </p><p>On his deathbed, he said over and over again the last addition to his Canticle of the Sun, "Be praised, O Lord, for our Sister Death." He sang Psalm 141, and at the end asked his superior to have his clothes removed when the last hour came and for permission to expire lying naked on the earth, in imitation of his Lord.</p> American Catholic Blog The joy of the Gospel is not just any joy. It consists in knowing one is welcomed and loved by God…. And so we are able to open our eyes again, to overcome sadness and mourning to strike up a new song. And this true joy remains even amid trial, even amid suffering, for it is not a superficial joy: it permeates the depths of the person who entrusts himself to the Lord and confides in him.

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