I was amazed to see how many Iraqi youth came out on a cold, dark night in the dead of winter to engage in worship and meaningful spiritual dialogue and teaching with two Lebanese religious sisters. One sister was perhaps just a few years older than the young people, yet greatly admired; the other was a now much-beloved mother figure.
They do this at least twice a month at the home of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary in the Jordanian capital, Amman.
There, they experience warm fellowship and the opportunity to express themselves freely as they grapple with the still-fresh wounds of being forced out of their ancestral home by ISIS militants.
They also have the opportunity to transform their pain and open their spirituality to God’s plan for their lives. They seek to grow by engaging in the spiritual formation and catechesis activities the Franciscans offer in a very natural atmosphere.
One of the young people, Ra’ed Omar says the program facilitated by the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary involves prayer, teaching, discussions, spiritual exercises, meditations and fun. At times, there may also be a Mass and a talk by a priest.
“They have influenced me a lot,” he says. “I’ve learned so much. It’s a great atmosphere. I was far away from the church in Iraq, but in Jordan I came closer to the church, to God and His people. It’s been a spiritual encounter providing an opportunity, too, to learn how to love others without expecting anything in return,” he says of this youth group’s outreach to Iraqi children, orphans and others in desperate situations.
That same conviviality is found among a group of young-to-middle-aged Jordanian women, many of whom are professionals, meeting every Tuesday at the sisters’ home for Bible study and a discussion of spiritual topics.
There, a Jordanian Franciscan religious sister oversees the activities while encouraging the women to engage actively in learning about God’s love and the tenets of the Christian faith that they hold so dear.
Sister Sana served with the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary in Syria’s trouble spots of Raqqa, Aleppo and Damascus before taking up her post in Amman last year.
“The goal for these women is to take responsibility for their discovery and learning along their spiritual walk. I want to see them following Jesus, enjoying a deep relationship with him in a profound way and understanding,” says Sister Sara. “This depth of spirituality will also impact and benefit the lives of their families and others they interact with and for whom they are responsible. At the end of the day, they should take hold of their spiritual growth because they, too, are the Church,” she says.