The World Meeting of Families:
Two Parishes Forge a CNEWA Connection

Barbara B. Daly is the Pastoral Associate at St. Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Parish in Amber, Pennsylvania.

Editor’s Note: Barbara B. Daly is the Pastoral Associate at St. Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Parish in Ambler, Pennsylvania, where she has served for over 20 years. When we learned about her parish’s extraordinary relationship with a parish in Jordan — and their joint involvement in this week’s World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia — we asked her to share some of her story.

St. Anthony Parish, Ambler, Pa., made a commitment in 2009 to lead a biennial pilgrimage to the Holy Lands of Israel and Jordan. This commitment grew from two realities: the incalculable impact of an experience of the Holy Land on the faith life of the pilgrims and the desire to express solidarity with the Christians in the Holy Land.

As preparation for their first trip, the parish sought a way to involve everyone in the experience. The ability to travel is limited to those who have the time, stamina and financial resources to do so; however all parishioners could come to know more about the Holy Land and the Christians there. The parish sought the aid of Catholic Near East Association (CNEWA) to help them find a project in the Holy Land that the parish could support. CNEWA brokered a relationship in the same way so many relationships are born today: online.

St. Anthony Parish was introduced to the Parish of the Immaculate Conception in Huson, Jordan. Both parishes were founded about the same time, 1886 and 1885 respectively. Both are located in small suburban towns with working and middle class families. Both sought to find ways to keep their families close and to support them in trying to live the faith. What separated them was 5,755 miles.

An online correspondence began and soon after followed financial support from St. Anthony’s for various projects at the Immaculate Conception Parish and the Latin Patriarchate School in Huson — including technology upgrades, funding the summer camp for the children, purchasing school supplies, the purchase of a telescope. St. Anthony’s was able to help with the equipment for the Latin School’s Lego Robotics team which went on to win the Jordanian National Lego Mindstorms Championship, earning them a spot at the World Championship in Atlanta, Georgia.

Since the initial visit and each visit thereafter, the Immaculate Conception Parish has offered warm hospitality, Bedouin style. The high school and college students of the youth group have been our hosts — feeding us, singing, dancing and playing the bag pipes. They have witnessed for us what faith lived in a hostile world looks like. They are truly an amazing group, organizing programs for Iraqi refugee children after their own school day is done. They support each other in remaining faithful to the Gospel with a depth that any parish in America would love to emulate.

The relationship between the two parishes has grown over the years by the grace of God, personal commitment and modern technology. Besides the biennial visits, the parishes stay in touch using Facebook, Instant Messenger, and email. There is a joint prayer service using Skype at the beginning of each Advent and Lent. True friendships have formed over the years — and it’s about to become even deeper.

St. Anthony’s will be hosting eight families from Jordan for the World Meeting of Families and the papal events which take place in Philadelphia 22-27 September The Sweidan family from Huson has been chosen to address the Holy Father, Pope Francis during the Festival of Families on 26 September — a tremendous honor for both parishes.

The situation for the Christians in the Middle East has deteriorated markedly since the beginning of the relationship between the two parishes. Huson is located only 25 miles from the Syrian border; they are on the front lines of the refugee crisis and the threats posed by ISIS. What began as a simple exchange of faith and culture now manifests a deeper reality. “For our parishioners, witness could mean the giving of their lives,” said Rev. Firas Nasrawin, pastor of Immaculate Conception. It’s quite a different reality from the witness taking place in St. Anthony’s or most American suburban parishes.

St. Anthony’s is eagerly awaiting the arrival of their visitors from the Jordan. Besides the papal events, there are many plans for their stay, visits to Washington, D.C., New York, even a day at the Jersey shore.

Most importantly, the bonds between the people of the parishes will grow even stronger as they have the opportunity to spend time, share stories, break bread and worship together.

Stay tuned. Barbara Daly will have an update for ONE-TO-ONE next week, after the World Meeting of Families.

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