JERUSALEM – Please find below the Christmas message of Mr. Sami El-Yousef, Chief Executive Officer of the Latin Patriarchate.
Greetings from this most holy city Jerusalem! It has been a mere three months since I assumed my new calling at the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem serving as the first lay Chief Executive Officer. This is certainly a great honor for me personally, but also a great challenge that presents unlimited opportunities to do good for our local communities through the Church and its various monastic and service institutions, mostly in education, health, and social services. The past three months have been one of the most revealing in my professional career characterized by discoveries of the works of this great institution I am so privileged and honored to serve.
It is clear to me today, that every day brings new discoveries about the works of institutions and that one should never pre-judge based on limited information. In its quest to faithfully, quietly and confidentially serve those who are weak, poor and marginalized, not only spiritually, but also materially, the works of the Patriarchate are worthy of greater appreciation and consideration. In my few months here, I have become aware of the inspiring work being done in the four countries of Palestine, Jordan, Israel, and Cyprus that make up the Catholic Diocese of the Holy Land. This includes serving over 187,000 Catholic faithful both indigenous and international through 88 priests spread over 55 parishes and a network of 41 schools and 33 kindergartens covering a total of 19,000 students and employing over 1,580 teachers and staff. In addition, there are centers of excellence spread over various locations serving the elderly, the youth, as well as marginalized children. This is in addition to the housing support provided in recent years providing by over 300 housing units in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Ramallah, Beit Jala and Nazareth to help young Christian families find a dignified place to live and raise their young families. Finally, we rate highly the support services provided to some 32 men’s and 73 women’s Catholic religious congregations serving with distinction in various sectors in the Holy Land.
Over the past three months as I traveled to various parishes in Jordan, Palestine and Israel, I was touched by the tremendous work conducted by our parishes that have become the center of community service and activities that include churches, schools, and other facilities that become the center of the spiritual, educational, social and cultural life of those communities. Traveling from Anjara, Ajloun, and Wahadneh in the north of Jordan to Zerqa in the south as well as from Nazareth in the north of Israel to Gaza in the south of Palestine, and seeing all the great services
provided, one becomes doubly proud of the work of the Latin Patriarchate. It is heartwarming to see more churches being built in Jbeiha, Jordan to serve the faithful as well as new kindergartens in Hashimi and Naour in Jordan as well as Jaffa Nazareth in Israel in addition to tens of other projects including Palestine. Having said that, one will certainly not neglect or ignore some of the difficult financial and administrative issues we must deal with internally. We must deal with the shortfalls of the past as lessons learned and plan for a future of stability both on the financial and administrative levels to enable this great institution to sustainably continue to be of service well into the future.
As we approach the end of the year, one is reminded of the true meaning of the birth of our Savior. As one reflects on the challenging political situation which may explode in the near future, we at the Latin Patriarchate must continue to focus on expanding our humanitarian and pastoral support to our communities and continue to improve the infrastructure of our institutions as well as build the human capacities so that our institutions will continue to be centers of excellence with quality services delivered with a Christian value set that we will all continue to be proud of. In this regard, we must extend our gratitude and appreciation to our generous donors around the world, but in a very specific way to the Grand Magisterium and the Order of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem for their generous moral and financial support without which our work would not be possible. May I take this opportunity extend to you and your families and friends a Merry Christmas with our best wishes for the New Year. May 2018 bring peace and justice to our troubled land. Keep us in your prayers.
Chief Executive Officer
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.
AMMAN – The World Day for people with disabilities was held at the Our Lady of Peace Center, welcomed and supported by a large gathering of their families and friends.
On December 4, Our Lady of Peace Center hosted the World Disability Day, sponsored by Prince Mired bin Ra’ad. The day was attended by the families of the Center’s children, who came to mark the event. The families were able to participate in activities organized by the children and their teachers. Candied olives, prepared with care by guests of the center, were sold.
The day, familial and cordial, also had additional help from SAI’s students and those of the Rosary Sisters’, two Christian schools in Amman, who regularly send their student volunteers to visit with the young children of the Center. Performances by clowns brought delight to the children.
Attending the World Disability Day were Patriarch Emeritus Fouad Twal; Bishop William Shomali, Patriarchal Vicar for Jordan; Bishop Selim Sayegh, Founder of the Center of Our Lady of Peace, and Fr. Shawki Baterian, the Director of the Center. Also present was the President of the Higher Council for Affairs of Persons with Disabilities, Prince Mired.
In his speech, Prince Mired thanked the staff of the Center for the quality of care for disabled children, care that is offered free of charge to all these usually needy families. He encouraged the continuation of the quality work carried out so far. The Prince also referred to the law, recently approved by Parliament, which came into force on September 1, which aims to combat discrimination against people with disabilities and to concretely strengthen their rights by providing easier access to education, health, tourism and employment, which in some cases also includes tax exemptions. More generally, this law – the first to take seriously the problem of disability in Jordan – aims to promote disability issues related to a better integration of people with disabilities present in Jordanian society, where daily life remains precarious and their condition unknown.
If you wish to support the work of the Our Lady of Peace Center on behalf of the neediest families of handicapped children, it is possible to visit the Center’s website here: Our Lady of Peace Center
GAZA – For their 2nd meeting since 2014, four members of the Coordinating Catholic Aid Organizations (CCAO) met with the Christian Youth in Gaza on Tuesday, November 21, 2017. The meeting was an occasion for the youth, aged 18- 35, to talk about their ambitions and needs as well as their daily struggles in the Strip.
The four members of the CCAO; the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Catholic Relief Services, the Pontifical Mission and Caritas Jerusalem, held their meeting with the youth at the Holy Family Parish, three years after their last visit.
“During the meeting, we worked with the Christian youth to come up with suggestions to meet and fulfill their needs”, said Sami El-Yousef, Chief Executive Officer of the Latin Patriarchate. “Some of these suggestions included the creation of job opportunities, housing support and educational support through scholarships.”
Unemployment in the Gaza Strip, which is the highest in Palestine, is one of the problems facing the youth sector. According to a survey conducted by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the unemployment rate among the youth aged 20-24 in Gaza reached 44.3% in the first quarter of 2017.
“Not being able to find a job is causing frustration and depression for them, not to mention the blockade they are living. In spite of the recent Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, these young people expressed little hope that this agreement would improve the quality of life in Gaza,” said Mr. El-Yousef.
One of the projects that The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the Holy Family Parish priest, Fr. Mario da Silva, are implementing in the Strip is the creation of job opportunities. “At the moment, there are sixteen young people who work at four Catholic institutions that the CCAO is supporting,” said Mr. El-Yousef. “It’s a good way for them to gain experience.”
Furthermore, the Latin Patriarchate implements pastoral projects there such as scouts programs and summer camps.
The visit of the CCAO also included the meeting with the directors of four Christian institutions; Al-Ahli Arab Hospital, the Near East Council of Churches, the YMCA and three Christians Schools.
JORDAN – At the age of 15, Aya lost her leg following an accident. This Saturday at the Our Lady of Peace Center will change her life.
With her shy smile, Aya seems to be like any Jordanian teenager. A sidelong glance, however, suffices to notice the absence of her left leg as an offense to the carefree of her 15 years. Today, the girl who suffered an accident three years ago will benefit from a new prosthesis on her left leg. What happened? she was running in the class when suddenly her leg hit a table wildly… A string of small wounds led then the girl to contract a tumor impossible to absorb. The diagnosis? it was necessary to amputate it. She, who loved to play football, would no longer be able to kick a ball. She, who loved to run, must get used to moving with two huge crutches to climb the stairs of the school to class. But the girl is tenacious and disconcerts her entourage by the simplicity with which she faces events. No, except for the steps of the school to climb, she did not encounter any problem. Students in her class have also created a Facebook group to facilitate her comings and goings because her teachers did not want to move the class on the ground floor.
From appointment to appointment, she hopes this prosthesis that will allow her to walk again. The problem remains the cost: after empty promises, her insurance tells her that nothing can be supported financially. A shock quickly chased away by the phone call of the NGO Handicap International who told her about the Our Lady of Peace Center. This unexpected news will change her life.
In the small rehab room, Aya paces with this surprisingly straight leg, so strange still, that she will have to get used to. One foot in front of the other … it’s been so long since she did not make this move. From now on, she can climb these famous stairs, gently but without help. With the many operations related to her injury, she has almost two years of high school to catch up and the program is dense. Her mom is moved but Aya herself is already too busy practicing her new way of walking. She will not be able to play football anymore. She will not run anymore. But she will go to the University to pursue her dream of becoming a lawyer. And nothing will stop him.
AQABA – In the south of Jordan, the Church is fighting to provide dignified care for people with disabilities and to raise awareness on the subject.
At the end of the desert that crosses the country, between arid mountains, stands the city of Aqaba, on the borders of Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The last city in southern Jordan has a more limited Christian presence than the rest of the country, a fact that does not prevent the Latin Church from leaving a strong social print. Our Lady of Peace Center, which provides care for people with disabilities, opened a branch in the heart of the city on May 15, 2011. “When the government saw the positive impact of our action, they gave us a land there,” explains Sahem Madanat, the Center’s director.
Compared to other existing structures for disabled people, Our Lady of Peace Center has the characteristic of offering individual and personalized follow-up. The institution offers different services: physiotherapy, speech therapy, intervention unit and occupational therapy. Each service has to deal with a long waiting list. The families of Aqaba and its surrounding areas come here for the professionalism and the free care. “We take care of a disabled person every hour,” says Ramy, the director of the Aqaba branch.
Carrying the cause of disability, a long-term job
In this establishment supported by the Latin Patriarchate, all employees are of Muslim faith; it is above all the fight for the dignity of disabled people. Before becoming the director, Ramy was a student at the University of Jordan. One day, while playing basketball with his friends, a young person with Down’s syndrome, who wanted to join the game was rejected by the rest of the team. Ramy got angry and outraged by this situation. “This story pushed me to get involved. It was from then on that I started volunteering to help people with disabilities, especially at Our Lady of Peace Center”. A few years later, his position as director allowed him to continue to invest in a cause he believes in. He is convinced that the model of the Center is essential in Jordanian society, in order to raise awareness of the human wealth of people with disabilities and increase the opportunities for interaction between these young people and society. Recently, he launched a program to give computer courses to young people with a mental or physical disability. In addition to being a great medium that helps them overcome the problem of isolation, this training aims to become a professional one.
Like this trial program in Aqaba, Sahem Madanat would like to implement several training courses that aim to help with the integration of disabled people into Jordanian society in the main branch of the Center in Amman, where school children, who are above 14 years old, are not supported.