Cory Eldridge wrote about the plight of Iraqi refugees in Jordan for the Spring 2013 issue of ONE. One of the people he met was a very busy Syriac Catholic priest.
After Father Mansour Mattosha spent a day driving around Amman visiting parish families, a Jesuit school and then finally his small Syriac Catholic church, I was worried about him. The priest has been in Amman for three and a half years, which makes him the longest-serving priest in the parish’s 64 years. The majority of his parishioners are Iraqi Christians, refugees who have fled horrific violence, destroyed neighborhoods and broken communities. Most of them arrive with just a few thousand dollars, usually made from selling a home and all the non-transportable valuables they own. They arrive in Amman separated from their families, friends and a land their ancestors have called home for thousands of years.
Father Mattosha cares for his community with inspiring humor and humility. One of the first things he told me when he picked me up in his very used Toyota Corolla was that most of the families who made up the founding members of the parish — Palestinians who fled the 1948 War — had left the Syriac Catholic Church. There had only been a handful of priests over the years. The families either went to the Latin churches in the city, keeping their ties to Catholicism, or they went to the Syriac Orthodox Church, keeping their language and liturgy. “This is our fault,” Father Mattosha said, meaning the tiny Syriac Catholic Church that has few resources. “It’s not their fault. There was no priest to marry the young people, do baptisms or celebrate Mass.”
After going around town, we finished our day in the dining room of his exceedingly tidy apartment, just a door or two away from the chapel. The parish cannot afford a caretaker for the church. He served me tea while he drank hot water to stave off the cold, saying he cannot drink more than a sip of tea without becoming wired.
Then he told me about his cousin who had been kidnapped. Like most of his congregation, Father Mattosha comes from a small city called Qaraqosh, just outside Mosul in northern Iraq. His cousin, a chicken farmer named Ghassan, was abducted. The criminals, as Father Mattosha calls them, demanded $30,000. He chipped in money, along with his brothers, to ransom Ghassan. Luckily, the kidnappers kept their word and released Ghassan.
That was when I became concerned for Father Mattosha. He has suffered many of the same losses as his parishioners and then in the course of his ministry he suffers theirs as well. After a day of doing pastoral work, he is left to his church, his prayers, and his thoughts. I asked him who ministers to the priest.
“What can you do?” he said and smiled. “You complain to God, to Jesus. Thank God the church is next door. I can go there. But I am mature enough for it.”
Being alone at the church, he says, helps him better understand his parishioners. It is a lonely life away from home.