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John Feister begins his tour of the Middle East in Amman Jordan, visiting with Christian refugees from Iraq.

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Day 1: Amman, Jordan
After traveling for a day and a half, we got off of a bus the Amman West hotel, in Amman Jordan, at 4 a.m. and were told to be ready to roll by 10. It’s going to be that kind of trip! We went from 10 a.m. today until about 9:30.

If there were a theme for today 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. They have fled persecution. Today we heard firsthand accounts.

Dawood Salim Matte and his family, refugees from Iraq, wait in Amman for the chance to move to North America. They've been here for a year, cared for by the Franciscan sisters. (photo by John Feister)
We visited the Franciscan Sisters of Mary convent here in Amman to learn of their presence among the refugees. Actually there was a group of refugee families who had come to the convent to meet us and tell their stories directly. There I met some amazing families who are stuck in Jordan, waiting to see what might happen next. They all seem to want to get to the U.S. or Canada, where some family members are already (though some seek Europe). Nothing is simple, though. Visas are required. They suffer the plight of refugees everywhere: No one really wants them, unless they can prove their case of need beyond a doubt. I interviewed and photographed some families, and recorded by Flip-video some of the conversations. We’ll try to get some of that online to share with you—kind of a sneak preview to what I’ll be writing for St. Anthony Messenger.

After an incredible Jordanian lunch, we piled in our tour bus and headed across town to meet with Father Raymond Massouli, a Chaldean Catholic pastor who started a parish to serve the Iraqi refugees back in 2003. Our group of journalists sat and talked in-depth in his tiny office, then we met more families. Some of the stories were horrifying—the woman whose family was in a terrorist explosion is one I won’t forget. They hope to all move to Detroit—if they can get their visas. They’ve been waiting a year already.

Back at the hotel, now in the early evening, we had a dinner with two bishops, one a Latin-rite (Roman) Catholic, the other a Melkite Catholic. They answered many questions informally over a dinner with our journalist group. One, Bishop Selim, told us about the forthcoming papal synod on the Middle East. It’s not about Christian-Jewish, or Christian-Muslim relations. “Rather,” he said, “it’s about how to build one heart and one mind among Christians.” 

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