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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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Matthew: Matthew was a Jew who worked for the occupying Roman forces, collecting taxes from other Jews. The Romans were not scrupulous about what the "tax farmers" got for themselves. Hence the latter, known as "publicans," were generally hated as traitors by their fellow Jews. The Pharisees lumped them with "sinners" (see Matthew 9:11-13). So it was shocking to them to hear Jesus call such a man to be one of his intimate followers. 
<p>Matthew got Jesus in further trouble by having a sort of going-away party at his house. The Gospel tells us that "many" tax collectors and "those known as sinners" came to the dinner. The Pharisees were still more badly shocked. What business did the supposedly great teacher have associating with such immoral people? Jesus' answer was, "Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' I did not come to call the righteous but sinners" (Matthew 9:12b-13). Jesus is not setting aside ritual and worship; he is saying that loving others is even more important. </p><p>No other particular incidents about Matthew are found in the New Testament.</p> American Catholic Blog The most appealing invitation to embrace the religious life is the witness of our own lives, the spirit in which we react to our divine calling, the completeness of our dedication, the generosity and cheerfulness of our service to God, the love we have for one another, the apostolic zeal with which we witness to Christ’s love for the poorest of the poor.


 
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