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AmericanCatholic.org will be reporting from an immersion tour of several countries in the Middle East in upcoming weeks. John Feister is going to Jordan, Palestine and Israel from September 17-25 and Jennifer Scroggins will be going to Syria and Lebanon from November 2-12. Follow their adventures here at AmericanCatholic.org.

Special Features
On Location in Jordan, Palestine and Israel
(photo by John Feister)

Follow along on the map from point to point. Click on each balloon for a brief summary of the people and places visited at each location. More in-depth accounts of each day's events follow below the map.


View ACO in the Middle East in a larger map

Day 1: Amman, Jordan
If there were a theme for today, Saturday, it would be Iraq. Thousands of Christians escaping the violence of Iraq have landed next door in Jordan. Many of those who had to flee—5,000 by a count we learned today—are Christians, whether Orthodox or Catholic, who have no place now in a society that struggles between Sunni and Shia Muslims.  Click here for more.




Day 2: Smakieh, Ader, Kerack City
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. Click here for more.




Day 3: Zaqa, Madaba
The Church is, at its best, a witness to hope, a sign of life’s fullness. Today, traveling to locations in Jordan, our journalists’ group saw much to be hopeful about, but also saw more than one place that is far from the fullness for which we all hope and pray. After a short night’s sleep—many of us burned the midnight oil filing stories after Sunday’s adventures!—we boarded the bus at our Amman hotel and headed for Zarqa. Click here for more.


Day 4: Jerusalem, the Old City
Our fourth day of immersion into the world of the Middle East started with a visit to the Franciscans’ school in Jerusalem—Terra Sancta. The school, grades 1-12, is a beacon of peace in Old Jerusalem the city, but times are bleak in 2010. The Israeli government, to a high degree, essentially has citizens locked in to the Old City. Click here for more.




Day 5: Bethlehem University, the West Bank “I’m not against anyone, but I’m against anyone who oppresses anyone.” That statement of resistance, from an older sister who runs a school (her story another day!), strikes a theme that we Church journalists heard again and again on this immersion trip. We are in Bethlehem, after all, on Israel’s West Bank, part of the Palestinian territory under control of the Israeli government. Sentiments of absolute frustration are easy to find in Palestine. Click here for more.



Day 6: Mar Elias College, Galilee Now, late in the week, some themes are emerging. The first, of course, is one we’ve known: The Holy Land is in crisis. That crisis is running Christians out. But as we scratch below the surface in our travels and conversations, it becomes clear that the political situation of the Palestinians—that is, the local Christian community—is the context for the crisis of Christianity. Click here for more.



Day 7: Jerusalem's Armenian Quarter, Ramallah and Taybeh There is no doubt about it: The Christian population in the Holy Land is dwindling, even to the point of extinction. On this final night of our journalists’ immersion trip we had dinner in the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, in the courtyard of a popular restaurant. Click here for more.




Day 8: Concluding Thoughts The trip is over now, and all of us journalists are back home. I doubt that any of us will ever look at the Middle East in the same way again. Granted, we got an earful of the Palestinian side of the story, but don’t we get a monthly, weekly, even daily dose of the Israeli perspective? Click here for more.




John Feister is the editor of AmericanCatholic.org. He is also the general editor of periodicals for St. Anthony Messenger Press. He holds master of arts degrees in humanities and theology from Xavier University, Cincinnati.

This immersion tour of the Middle East is sponsored by Catholic Near East Welfare Association with support from the U.S. Bishops' Catholic Communications Campaign.




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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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