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.
JORDAN – Born prematurely at seven months, Abdel Azziz was condemned to death. However, the selflessness of his parents has shaken the trajectory of this little boy, now almost two years old, who has been following physiotherapy sessions for the past three months at Our Lady of Peace Center. A testimony was collected as part of our new series of reports: “Success stories of Our Lady of Peace Center”.
“He fought to live”
In the cheerfully noisy hall of Our Lady of Peace Center, the low and serene voice of Suha, mother of Abdel Azziz trembles. The story of her son is recent and her voice is full of emotion, but she knows that this testimony can initiate change and open doors. So, she takes a breath and shares the story. “It was a terrible night. I was seven months pregnant and I started to feel severe abdominal pain. My husband immediately took me to the hospital”. As a nurse, Suha was worried because, she knew that these pains do not bode well for pregnancy. The doctors were not worried and made her wait for long hours… until her water broke. The little Abdel Azziz was born on November 11, 2015, aged 31 weeks, in critical condition. “He had a weak heart rate and his blood pressure was low… it seemed like the end,” said Suha. “I still remember the doctor ordering the pediatrician to cover him up and let him die. But I refused that because my son’s heart was still beating. They therefore agreed to put him in an incubator”.
Two weeks passed during which Suha and her husband, despite their close families and the health care team, were the only ones to believe that the child would live. Abdel Azziz simultaneously suffered a brain hemorrhage and a lung infection, caused by the hygiene problems of the hospital. “During this time, I could only pray. He finally managed to put on weight and he fought… he fought to live”.
Abdel Azziz was then sent home with his parents and was put in an isolated room to avoid any new infections. For weeks, Suha was the only one who helped him in this small space, only going out occasionally to take care of her other children. “Abdel Azziz is getting better little by little and his condition has stabilized. Despite all the health problems associated with early birth, he is alive. Suha has also follow up appointments with specialists of all kinds: oculists, physiotherapists… but the disillusion is great: care is too expensive and not always up to par. “Here in the Arab world, they do not care for people with disabilities because they think they will be useless”, Suha said. Far from being discouraged, she continues to search for the best for her son. The lack of oxygen at birth has caused a delay motor all over his left side and he must follow intense physiotherapy sessions. One day, by word of mouth, she heard about Our Lady of Peace Center and the free care. She put him on a waiting list after which doors opened.
At Our Lady of Peace Center, another chance in life
Three months later, the boy showed a great progress coming and going in the hall of Our Lady of Peace Center. Behind his round glasses, he defies with an amused look the strangers he meets and shouts his joy of life at the top of his lungs. Hanan, a physiotherapist is proud to see that in a few sessions, he has almost reached the motor skills of a “normal” child of the same age. Today, Abdel Azziz has taken a new step: he will follow his first session in the department “Early Intervention Unit”, a program that assesses all the cognitive and intellectual abilities of the child. “The love they give to children, the professionalism, the equipment and of course the free care … everything is different here and we are happy to have found the best for Abdel Azziz” said Suha smiling. For her, the model of the Center offers a beautiful response to a blatant suffering in Jordan: that of a disabled population still largely hidden because disability is still seen with shame in the eyes of society. Yet 13% of Jordanians have a disability. “For a disabled child to live, even more here than elsewhere, you have to sacrifice everything,” said Suha.
Gradually, the taboo of disability is slowly crumbling in Jordan thanks to the courage of Suha and so many other parents, convinced of the dignity of their children. But the road is long. On the waiting list, many patients are still waiting to be treated and accompanied because, even if the number of patients increases exponentially, the number of the care staff remains stable. Free care at Our Lady of Peace Center depends entirely on the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and other organizations, and the financial stability of this immense infrastructure continually requires new donors. This free care is an unexpected benefit for many families who would not be able to seek treatment at the Center without this condition.
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