Discovering the Sri Lankan community of Jordan

AMMAN – Unknown but still alive, the community of Sri Lankan Catholics in Jordan is organizing to bring faith and brotherhood to life, despite sometimes precarious and difficult living and working conditions.

Discrete but increasingly numerous since the beginning of the 1990s, when they began to regularly flock to Amman, the capital of Jordan, for economic reasons, Sri Lankan workers in Jordan are now a well-established community in the Jordanian national landscape which has gradually been structured.

Sri Lankan Catholics also gathered in community, around their chaplain, Father Sri Kantha Appuhamy, a courageous and dynamic 39-year-old priest who began his assignment a year ago (Father Sri is the 4th  chaplain of the Catholic community). The priest struggles to serve and meet his compatriots scattered throughout Jordan: though the majority of Sri Lankan Catholics is focused in Amman, others, however, live outside the capital, sometimes even far from Amman, but that does not discourage Father Sri who makes it a point of honor to visit his entire “flock”.

Sri Lankans – numbering about 20,000 in Jordan, for a total of about 3,000 Catholics – work mainly as factory employees or domestic servants for private individuals, often underpaid and tiring jobs, which leave them only little time to be in community and practice their faith.

Ambitious pastoral care for Sri Lankan Catholics in Jordan

For Father Sri, sent by his bishop, Msgr. Valence Mendis, the bishop of his diocese of origin, the city of Chilaw, to take charge of the pastoral care of the Sri Lankan community of Jordan, it is essential to develop a solid pastoral service to his compatriots so that they can feel close to Christ, rooted in their faith but also that they can be trained on all matters relating to the Catholic faith. This is why Father Sri is active in teaching catechism to the greatest number, the youngest as well as the oldest. “When migrants are busy with their work and their day-to-day tasks, with the isolation and difficulties of daily life, they tend to forget God.” Hence the importance of this pastoral work to “help the faithful live as good Christians and to live with Christ”.

A lively and courageous community

The Community allows them to live in a real sense of brotherhood, far from their families and friends they have had to leave. Developing pastoral care for Sri Lankan migrants and caring about their plight, suffering and isolation was also a priority of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which strongly supported the fledgling community in the first waves of immigration.

Among the milestones, the arrival of Msgr. Cletus Perera, bishop of the diocese of Ratnapura, Sri Lanka, last May, the month of Mary – to whom Sri Lankan bears great devotion – for a pastoral visit. This visit was perceived as a real encouragement by the Sri Lankan community and reinforced the certainty of being supported, welcomed by their Christian brothers and sisters in Jordan, and thus becoming full members of the Christian community. This pastoral visit was followed last July by that of another Sri Lankan bishop, Msgr. Harold Anthony Perera, Bishop of the Diocese of Kurunegala, also the Chairman of the Catholic National Commission for Migrants and pastoral care for the Episcopal Conference of Bishops of Sri Lanka. During his stay in Jordan, he has had the chance to visit factories in Amman where migrants and many Sri Lankans work.

Pilgrimages are also held each year to the Baptism of Christ site and the Marian Shrine of Anjara, in northern Jordan.

In addition to the celebration of Masses and the regular dispensation of the sacraments such as the sacrament of reconciliation, weddings or baptisms, Father Sri wants to develop visits to people in families and those in isolation, as well as the pastoral care of prisons and visits to factories where many Sri Lankans work.

Father Sri’s work in the service of his compatriots in Jordan goes beyond Catholics, since many Sri Lankan Buddhists, also working in Jordan, also come to swell the ranks of his pastoral ministry, a gift Father Sri rejoices in.

Remy Brun