News from the parish of Smakieh (Jordan)
SMAKIEH (Jordan) – Here is a letter of Father Vito Vacca, a Roman Fidei Donum priest in Palestine, appointed parish priest of Smakieh (Jordan) in June 2012., Father Vito presents an interesting picture of the daily life of Christians, their faith and their relations with Muslims.
Smakieh, – February 13, 2013
I write to you again to give you the latest news of my mission in Smakieh, to respond to your greetings, and thank you for your prayers. As you know, I was sad to leave the Holy Land for these deserts, remote and virtually unknown lands of the ancient Moabites, and start again from scratch. But I am feeling that it is the Lord who guides history. And it works not only for others, but it also surprises me. I must say that I am glad I started this new adventure and I feel sympathy for this people who have a very special place in countries linked to the history of salvation and the origins of Christianity and Islam. In essence, it is like a new family that joins to the others that I have had in different stages of my life. It is an enrichment that drives me forward. I did not program it myself, and I see how my Director General directs. He smoothes the ways and provides everything. It seems that He does not even look at my little faith and weaknesses, rather He sends me pleasant surprises, such as people who are close to me, satisfaction in the scope of parish pilgrimages of loved ones, unexpected contact with the holy places etc..
Seeing all this I like to read Psalm 103:
He saves your life from the pit and crowns you with love and mercy
He satisfies your day with goods and renews your youth like the eagle’s.
Certainly there are also problems, but these do not detract from the trust. I talked about the conflict in this region of Smakieh with the celebration of a marriage against paternal wishes but defended by the priest and the Bishop. It resulted in a conflict between his tribe (the Akashe) and the other tribe of Hijazin. A few days ago, a man died of injuries in a clash between members of the two tribes. Tribal law (common to the Muslim tribes) imposes the exile of relatives of the convicted. They should go and live in the ‘Jalua,’ a type of protected places (reminds me of the six “cities of refuge” in the book of Numbers, created in Israel for the persecuted, or in the Middle Ages in Europe’s inviolable shrines where fugitives could hide). If one comes out of these places, one can be killed.
Immediately after the funeral of the man, there was the “atwa,” a truce agreement of three days, followed by another one month, during which the two parties undertake not to attack. Then the tribe of the victim was “generous” in granting the exile of the men adversaries only and not the women so that they are not exposed to Muslims who find themselves in these protected areas. Muslims themselves are amazed at this magnanimity of the Christians, because they are inflexible and worse things happen. Clearly, I believe that the Christian is called to a true reconciliation beyond this human justice. But what worries me most is that the sons of the deceased swear “honorable” revenge, which could be the death of the convicted (even if perhaps he did not intend to kill). As I said, I was sent here to help the Christian community in these difficult times, many have turned away from religious practice, and in a region where selfish interests and violence have spread and generated disputes. One has recourse to the tribal law that traditionally regulates social life in a way closer to a Muslim mentality than that of the Gospel. The entire Christian community suffers and pays the consequences.
For my part, I denounce this pagan drift in homilies as in my writings and meetings. There is no Christianity without forgiveness! Tribal traditions may be necessary, but the light of Christ illuminates every culture and tradition bringing a new mentality and release from bondage of the law. You cannot pray and kill. You cannot present yourself as a Christian who hates and seeks revenge. The majority of people approve of my homilies, knowing that I’m trying to preach the Gospel. They tell me I am brave to tell the truth. Others, however, think that it is right and necessary to follow the traditional laws and ignore the calls of priests and bishops. I see them as people who need to be freed and meet the One who can free them. I think that we continue to meet and propose the love revealed in Jesus, the source of true and final reconciliation. The difficulty arises when I have to deal with groups of elders and leaders (who sometimes disagree among themselves), whereas conversion is a personal decision. I have found that a person willing to listen can be “drawn in” by his entourage. Recently, I gave the example of Jesus being chased out of Nazareth because he had given preference to the new family of those who hear the Word than to that of blood.
Meanwhile, I continue to undertake activities. We started biblical vigils in homes to encourage listening to the Gospel: the culture of television and Facebook does not allow a deeper cultural analysis in reading books in general and of the Holy Scripture in particular. I led the first group of pilgrims in the Holy Land and it was wonderful. Very few had the opportunity to visit these places although living only a few kilometers away. Now I am preparing another group for June. At the beginning of next month, we will start a catechesis for adults with the help of couples in Amman. I hope to start a renewal capable of giving inner freedom. The children and youth are very receptive, they are always present and promising. Since there is no recreational facility in the country, I am thinking to adjust and expand the parish playing fields, in very poor condition, that they may serve both the school and the oratory.
We suffer, indirectly, by the war in Syria and the Islamic fundamentalism that threatens the Christian minorities in the Middle East and beyond. Many Muslims on the other hand are starting to open their eyes to these ideologies and the lack of clarity of Islam and the ambiguity of the Koran.
For you, Lent has began. Unfortunately we have to wait a month because of solidarity and the spirit of ecumenism with the Orthodox who follow the Julian calendar, not the reformed one of Pope Gregory. Our Easter will be on May 5 instead of March 31!
I wish everyone a Happy Lent crowned with the glory of Easter. It can present itself as a difficult and sad time, whereas in reality, conversion, that is to look to Christ, is a liberating and joyful rediscovery of a fuller and serene life. It is a joy to be able to do a little fasting or good works, even the smallest, as a response to Christ who loved us by giving himself. A moment of silence or dialogue with him is worth much more than a movie on television. An act of generosity (even to one’s wife!) restores you much more than what you can give. The renunciation to eat (more than necessary!) repays you physically. But above all, has a relationship of friendship and intimacy with “your heavenly Father.”
Abouna Vito Vacca