Journey to the Holy Land: Blessings From Bedouin Jordan

I forgot to mention in my blog post the other day that I had a wonderful visit on Monday afternoon to CNEWA’s Pontifical Mission Library in Amman. This multipurpose facility serves many age groups and many needs and is run by a most devoted corps of Teresians, a secular institute, and many volunteers. The team does everything — from catechetics to English classes, study hall opportunities to the provision of audio-visual materials in English, Arabic, French and Spanish offering study materials in theology, philosophy and culture. This project is subsidized by CNEWA and makes us proud of how many people pass through its doors.

Today, Father Guido and I are in Petra, where we are scheduled to visit the marvelous ruins of Nabataean Petra, one of the wonders of the world. Yesterday, however, as we left Amman we headed south to the city of Kerak. This is a large city with a very small Christian population (Christians only make up 6 percent of the kingdom’s population). Our first stop was to the Italian Hospital, which is run by the Comboni Sisters. They have been here for 75 years and have decided to concentrate their resources and personnel at this hospital, since the city has so many poor and almost no Christian presence.

The hospital very recently welcomed a new administrator, Sister Adele Brambilla, C.M.S., who has just returned to Jordan after finishing two terms as the worldwide head of the Comboni Sisters. She and the other four sisters in the community welcomed us with open arms (and the usual coffee and baked goods) and took us on a tour of this aging facility. Although there are some very new high tech pieces of equipment, the hospital is badly in need of a complete makeover. There is a new wing under construction and the sisters express their hope that God will allow them to bring the renovations to fruition.

While visiting in the nursery, I was escorted by an older Italian nun with real charm and a mischievous smile. She pointed out to me the crèche next to the babies in incubators. I showed my surprise at seeing the crèche in the nursery, and she said: “Why not? What better place to have a crèche than here with the babies.” That sure makes sense to me.

By the way, I couldn’t help but notice three Muslim nurses decorating a Christmas tree and putting up some religious symbols for Christmas. The sisters commented that the spirit of acceptance among the Christians and Muslims at the hospital — and in this city in general — was such that they had great respect for each other in the practice of the faith. This mutual respect, I understand, is not unusual in Jordan and it underlines the importance of the sisters being present in Kerak. Their presence as ambassadors of Christ is even more important than the wonderful health care they provide the poor.

The sisters expressed to all of you their gratitude for the help given by CNEWA and ask for your continuing prayers.

From the hospital we went to visit the Melkite Greek Catholic pastor of Immaculate Conception Church, Abuna Boulos (or Father Paul), and were joined there by Archbishop Yasser Ayyash and some other priests. We had a delightful lunch, where I learned much about the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. When I entered the rectory, Father Boulos immediately introduced me to his wife, as it is the Melkite tradition for priests to marry before ordination. After a brief visit to the church, which is finishing up a major restoration project sponsored by CNEWA, we headed for the Bedouin village of Smakieh for the highlight of the day and the spiritual highlight of this pastoral visit thus far.

We were invited by the archbishop and Abuna Boulos to concelebrate at the ordination liturgy for a subdeacon and deacon. What an honor for Father Guido and myself. Not only did the archbishop make us feel welcome, he even vested us in the Melkite vestments used for their liturgy. It was a very proud moment for both of us.

I had a singular honor of processing through the congregation holding up the Gospel book and having people touch it or kiss it as I passed. The pastor made special mention of Ra’ed Bahou, Father Guido and me as special guests and participants in the Divine Liturgy and expressed appreciation for the many forms of assistance rendered by CNEWA to all of the five parishes that he covers.

A couple of impressive sights from the ceremony: Being welcomed outside the church as we arrived with the archbishop by all the men removing the agal, or cord, from their kaffiyeh, a traditional head covering. It was a sign of deepest respect given to us. The men were robust in their handshakes and in their welcoming.

After the ceremony, after all the elders and people of the parish had personally greeted the new deacon and given him a kiss on each cheek, a group of younger parishioners hoisted the deacon on their shoulders and began dancing to the beat of their chanting which created a most festive mood.

The village of Smakieh is entirely Christian, which is rare in this Muslim kingdom. There are only two families of Bedouin living in the village, the Latin Hijazine family and the Melkite Akasheh family. Between these two families they have offered 14 priests in service to the church. Added to this are the number of Catholic and Orthodox priests that have come from neighboring Bedouin towns, such as Raba and Ader, who basically supplied much of the entire presbyterate for Jordan and Israel and Palestine. God is good all the time and all the time God is good.

From the spiritually charged experience in this Bedouin village in southern Jordan we drove about three hours to the famous ancient treasure of Petra. I will send you my next update on Thursday, which will offer you a glimpse of Petra, and much more.

You were all remembered at that ordination Eucharist, and not just by Father Guido and me, but by the parish family in Smakieh. Their prayers carry at least double points in heaven.

Watch the video below of our visit with Bedouin Christians.

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