Editors’ note: Dale Gavlak reports on a community of Catholic sisters who offer a place of hope, comfort and healing, despite their own past trials, in “Wounded Healers,” published in the March 2022 issue of ONE. The people they serve at Mother of Mercy Clinic in Zerqa, Jordan, are the poorest of the poor, refugees who escaped the violence of their homelands, seeking a more stable life for their families. Listen to Dale’s report. A full transcript follows.
Once you enter the church compound where the Mother of Mercy Clinic is located in Zerqa, there is a calm that settles over you, uncharacteristic of the city known as Jordan’s bustling industrial hub.
“I love coming here. This place is so peaceful, and the sisters are so kind and loving,” a man tells me, speaking of Sisters Habiba, Maryann and Ibtisam.
They are Iraqi nuns from the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena serving in Jordan at the clinic, which is found about 12 miles outside the capital, Amman.
The eldest nun, Sister Habiba, is spritely and welcomes visitors warmly, her eyes sparkling. You can detect that there must be a big smile underneath her face mask. Our temperatures are taken and sanitizing gel is squirted into our hands. We’re ready to explore the clinic and discover what makes this place so special.
We meet babies, children and mothers, most wearing Muslim headscarves and others sporting the full face veil or niqab patiently waiting their turn either to see a doctor or a nurse to have their child checked, weighed or vaccinated or to get checked themselves during their months of pregnancy.
A lone young father with his baby boy stands out among the mothers. He wears a colorful traditional headscarf or keffiyeh to ward off the winter’s cold. Farhan Tamun tells me that he is a Syrian refugee from the central town of Homs. He and his family fled to Zerqa in 2013 when bombing and fighting at the height of the Syrian conflict destroyed their home.
Tamun says he doesn’t have a steady income as a refugee and the coronavirus pandemic has just made his family’s financial situation even worse, adding to their woes. But he says he loves coming to the clinic where everything is well-ordered, clean and cheerful, and he greatly appreciates the care of the nuns and their staff to help his family.
The atmosphere of calm and care, he says, helps him to forget some of his troubles and to feel relaxed knowing the clinic is a good and safe place for him and his family. He says he is grateful for the nuns who take wonderful care of the refugees who come to the clinic for help.
The young mothers and adult men and women echo Tamun’s feelings of gratitude who seek medical advice and treatment from the clinic’s staff, some having made the clinic their go-to place for decades.
They all tell me that the clinic’s staff provide the personal touch and kindness not found in other medical practices and their professionalism gives patients trust and confidence in them.
Although most of the patients are destitute Jordanians or of Palestinian descent, there are some 20 nationalities served by the clinic, which is located near a refugee camp, says Sister Maryann.
“We have helped a lot of people who have no money, no jobs, or who have lost their jobs. Most of the financial assistance for the clinic comes from the Pontifical Mission and we are very grateful for this generous support,” Sister Maryann says.
Sister Habiba says the nuns try to “help the patients as much as possible, spiritually, emotionally and with free medical services, if that is what is needed.”
“We know that without this clinic, the poor would be greatly hurt,” Sister Habiba says. “But by receiving these people with a smile and kindness, we look to restore the bonds of love, friendship and faith, acknowledging that there is no refuge except in God.”
Based in the Middle East for the past 30 years, Dale Gavlak has reported for CNEWA from Iraq, Egypt and Jordan.