"Going beyond the borders of the heart": Iraqi refugees hosted by the Patriarchate in Jordan

By: Vivien Laguette & Myriam Ambroselli - Published: November 25 Fri, 2016

JORDAN – Since 2014, which marked the beginning of ISIS, Jordan has become a haven for hundreds of thousands of Iraqi immigrants. The Latin Patriarchate has opened the doors of its parishes, centers, and schools to more than 200 Christian families and continues to multiply initiatives to offer them prospects for the future.

Since 2003, violence and insecurity in Iraq have grown steadily, increasing in 2014 with the self-proclamation of the Islamic State. Migratory movement has increased in particular towards Jordan, which today welcomes hundreds of thousands of Iraqis on its territory. Despite the efforts of the Jordanian government to ensure that all refugees have access to basic public services such as education and health care, their ability to help them has been exhausted. The Latin Patriarchate, alongside Caritas Jordan, rapidly set up an emergency program and is now working to find more sustainable solutions by providing humanitarian aid to more than 11,000 displaced Iraqi families: food, clothing, shelter, water, healthcare, money to cover hospital costs, transportation, etc., but also by responding to the housing problem for many families.

Arriving massively in August 2014, the 220 Christian refugee families in Jordan were first accommodated on church premises, in rooms with improvised partitions, or in caravans. Spartan conditions, offering little or no privacy, led the Patriarchate to set up a program to offer them decent housing. The families were rehoused in apartments where the Patriarchate took charge of the rent for a period of one year, in order to give them time to find other solutions.

Education is another fundamental area for which the Patriarchate has made every effort. “The children have been completely taken care of by the schools of the Patriarchate, free of charge,” says with delight Father Imad Twal, General Administrator of the Patriarchate, himself a Jordanian native. “The school in Madaba, for example, welcomes 62 children of refugees. Caritas and our Project Development Office work hand-in-hand to provide them with concrete solutions. So does our solidarity as a Church. Many benefactors allow us, day after day, to continue to live this solidarity: the Knights of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher, in particular the Lieutenancy of Germany, as well as many private donations from people who wish to remain anonymous.”

Many activities and resources are available to refugees to help them rebuild their lives: spiritual retreats, the Eucharist, visits, walks, and concerts of Christian music as well as counseling for those who wish it. At Christmas, gifts will be distributed to the children and vouchers worth 50 dinars (about 65 euros) will be given to 300 families.

The Latin Patriarchate also ensures that refugees can return to work by creating jobs: “We now employ two Iraqis to maintain the churches, and four Iraqis have also been hired in our parishes along with five families at Our Lady of Peace Center in Amman,” Fr Twal continues. “We have just opened a school for making mosaics, a school whose name bears the initials of the Patriarchate, LPJ, standing for Love, Peace and Justice–in three words, the heart of our program.”  Seven families now benefit from this exclusive two-month training program, each receiving 10 dinars a day to support themselves during this period.

“People in need do not ask; it’s up to us to look for them,” adds Fr Imad. “We must go beyond ourselves, transcend the boundaries of the heart, as the Pope tells us, in order to touch the other. The Church must offer this testimony of international fellowship and brotherhood towards the refugees. If we do not think about them, who will? How can we claim to love God without loving others?” The priest, moved, recounts how the most recently arrived Iraqi families, formerly conformable and well established in their country, left without anything. “They preferred not to deny their faith. They preferred Christ above all things, even though that meant losing everything. If we could have such faith!”