After a full night of rest and a good breakfast, Father Guido and I were welcomed to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan by our host, Ra’ed Bahou, our regional director for Jordan and Iraq.
Our first stop was a large and historic hospital (in fact, the oldest) in the capital of Amman, which is known as the Italian Hospital, after the Italian missionary organization that founded it. Begun almost 80 years ago, and staffed for years by the Comboni Sisters from Italy, the Italian Hospital now stands as a refuge for the poor, and at the same time, a sparkling example of a very modern facility.
Much of the renewal and change is the work of the Dominican Sisters of the Presentation of Mary, who have staffed it for the past four years. Five years ago, faced with the risk of losing the presence of sisters and the possible closure of this venerable institution, Ra’ed negotiated with this community of religious to come from Iraq to take over its management. Presently, there are four Dominican sisters working there, two Iraqis and two from Kerala, India. Their provincial house is in Baghdad.
The hospital has seen many changes, including a huge modernization program, much of which has come from the direct assistance of CNEWA’s Pontifical Mission office in Amman and in cooperation with other funding agencies. There is a dynamic spirit present here, revealing the close cooperation between the sisters and the very committed team of lay professionals. While grateful to CNEWA for our assistance, they share a strong desire to take on their share of responsibility in supporting themselves. They all made special mention that everyone is asked to pay something for the health care services rendered, even if almost nothing. And those who can afford to pay do so to help subsidize the poor. This formula seems to be working.
It was very uplifting to hear their testimony that they do not want charity, but just a little help, which allows them to lift themselves up.
One doctor put it this way: “We want to do our share, as this gives us our dignity.”
We left Amman for densely crowded Zerqa, where we had an appointment to visit the Mother of Mercy Clinic. Perhaps the word “clinic” is a misnomer; this facility teems with activity and offers a multitude of services to a huge number of poor, almost all of whom are Muslim.
I have to tell you, the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, who run the clinic, are dynamos and command tremendous respect by the hundreds who come each day. Though the facilities are old, humble and crowded, the service provided is exceptional. On a typical day, the dispensary or emergency room might see between 100-140 patients. Additionally, there may be hundred mothers with their infants lined up for vaccinations. There are only two full-time doctors on staff, but they are complimented very well by a trained group of nurses, technicians, midwives, assistants and other helpers who make the delivery of services something to behold. I think our huge mega-hospitals in North America could learn a thing or two with the efficient management style seen here.
But most of all, there is a loving spirit demonstrated by the four sisters who work here and the dedicated staff that collaborates with them. Ra’ed mentioned that most of the staff have been employed at Mother of mercy for many years, and while they could make greater sums elsewhere, they have made a commitment to stay and serve the poor.
Mother of Mercy is located right beside a huge Palestinian refugee camp, which houses about 80,000 inhabitants. You can imagine the volume of traffic to the clinic on some days, which lies within a compound that includes a parish church, dedicated to St. Pius X, and the parish school.
Another indicator of how beloved the sisters are is the fact that in every instance, save one, all the Muslim women with their children and infants felt very comfortable in allowing me to photograph them. Being cautious, I let one of the sisters accompanying me to ask their permission to take their photograph. I must tell you, the faces of both mother and child were prize-winning smiles, thanks to the sisters.
An extra treat was to join the sisters for lunch. We left the noisy clinic for the convent and were surprised to be welcomed at the door by Mother Maria Hanna, O.P., the superior general of this community, which is based in Iraq. What a sweetheart is Mother Maria. And imagine this, she has no home! Let me explain:
A few years back their motherhouse in Mosul, Iraq, was bombed and destroyed. Located in a city at the heart of recent extremist violence, the motherhouse was never rebuilt. They still have no place to call home, no center, not even a novitiate to house the young women who want to serve the community. So, Mother Maria travels from one home to another where her sisters are now working. Thanks be to God, the sisters are now located in other countries, two are even studying in Chicago. But Iraq is home, to be sure.
Mother and the sisters served us a magnificent meal, mostly Iraqi delicacies. The outstanding feature is what I would call a “rice loaf,” which was a huge baked loaf of rice, meats, some chopped vegetables and raisins (I’m told raisins are prominent in Iraqi dishes) with plenty of spices then wrapped with a thin type of bread that envelopes this huge loaf-like presentation. But the best part was watching Mother Maria serve it with a special “flip” of the crusty bread for your plate. What a great meal, what an inspiring leader of the church, what a lovely group of sisters.
After these pastoral visits, we headed to the offices of our Jordanian “family.” I felt so much at home with the warm welcome from each member of the staff. We barely sat down before they were serving us some Jordanian delicacies. Over our tea and coffee, we all agreed how important it is for us to heighten this special sense of family and unity between CNEWA and the Pontifical Mission.
I told them how appreciative I am for all they do on our behalf. And I thank all of you for making these wonderful works of charity possible in Jordan due to your generous gifts. God is good for giving us the opportunity and the blessing of helping the people here. And as they said many times today, “All we want is a little help — please God — so we can accomplish great things for ourselves.”
My dear friends, you have done just that. May God continue to bless you as models of coexistence and love.
Check out the video below from our visit to the Italian Hospital in Amman, Jordan.