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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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John Paul II: “Open wide the doors to Christ,” urged John Paul II during the homily at the Mass when he was installed as pope in 1978. <br /><br />Born in Wadowice, Poland, Karol Jozef Wojtyla had lost his mother, father and older brother before his 21st birthday. Karol’s promising academic career at Krakow’s Jagiellonian University was cut short by the outbreak of World War II. While working in a quarry and a chemical factory, he enrolled in an “underground” seminary in Kraków. Ordained in 1946, he was immediately sent to Rome where he earned a doctorate in theology. <br /><br />Back in Poland, a short assignment as assistant pastor in a rural parish preceded his very fruitful chaplaincy for university students. Soon he earned a doctorate in philosophy and began teaching that subject at Poland’s University of Lublin. <br /><br />Communist officials allowed him to be appointed auxiliary bishop of Kraków in 1958, considering him a relatively harmless intellectual. They could not have been more wrong! <br /><br />He attended all four sessions of Vatican II and contributed especially to its <em>Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World</em>. Appointed as archbishop of Kraków in 1964, he was named a cardinal three years later. <br /><br />Elected pope in October 1978, he took the name of his short-lived, immediate predecessor. Pope John Paul II was the first non-Italian pope in 455 years. In time, he made pastoral visits to 124 countries, including several with small Christian populations. <br /><br />He promoted ecumenical and interfaith initiatives, especially the 1986 Day of Prayer for World Peace in Assisi. He visited Rome’s Main Synagogue and the Western Wall in Jerusalem; he also established diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Israel. He improved Catholic-Muslim relations and in 2001 visited a mosque in Damascus, Syria. <br /><br />The Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, a key event in John Paul’s ministry, was marked by special celebrations in Rome and elsewhere for Catholics and other Christians. Relations with the Orthodox Churches improved considerably during his ministry as pope. <br /><br />“Christ is the center of the universe and of human history” was the opening line of his 1979 encyclical, <em>Redeemer of the Human Race</em>. In 1995, he described himself to the United Nations General Assembly as “a witness to hope.” <br /><br />His 1979 visit to Poland encouraged the growth of the Solidarity movement there and the collapse of communism in central and eastern Europe 10 years later. He began World Youth Day and traveled to several countries for those celebrations. He very much wanted to visit China and the Soviet Union but the governments in those countries prevented that. <br /><br />One of the most well-remembered photos of his pontificate was his one-on-one conversation in 1983 with Mehmet Ali Agca, who had attempted to assassinate him two years earlier. <br /><br />In his 27 years of papal ministry, John Paul II wrote 14 encyclicals and five books, canonized 482 saints and beatified 1,338 people. <br /><br />In the last years of his life, he suffered from Parkinson’s disease and was forced to cut back on some of his activities. <br /><br />Pope Benedict XVI beatified John Paul II in 2011, and Pope Francis canonized him in 2014. American Catholic Blog Lord, may I have balance and measure in everything—except in Love. —St. Josemaría Escrivá


 
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