Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Fr. John Meets Amman - and Vice Versa

MASSIVE MISSIVE # Jordan 1
Father John Leaves the U.S. and Meets A New Country

\\A note as we start - you know I am in an Arabic country, and Arabic reads from right to left. As I look at the proof of this Blog, it seems it is automatically designed to go from right to left, and I don't know how to change that - so in case you think I a just being artistic, nope, 

There is an old adage about eyes being bigger than the stomach, which is usually invoked when someone is not a member of “the clean plate club.” (This was seldom a problem in my childhood!) I have found it true in my life not when applied to food but when I walk into a hardware store, or browse a college course catalogue, I want far more than I could ever use or attend.

It might be assumed that if this were true in those instances, it might also hold in others, and Gentle Reader, if you had that thought, how right you are! When I left the Jesuit Residence on 83rd Street in May of 2016, I threw out and gave away all sorts of items, and clothes and threw away great collections of stuff. I scanned four large boxes of pictures and threw away the originals. Yet when it came time to move, I had 130 boxes, plus the piano, the desk chair, a footlocker, the reclining chair, two file cabinets, some lamps – it took a sizeable truck and a 3-man crew. When I left the office at the Xavier Society for the Blind, it took another 13 boxes and a rented van. I am NOT St Francis Xavier who went to convert Asia with only one small bag he could carry by himself.

While in residence at Our Lady of Mercy parish, once I got my assignment to Jordan, I gave away four LARGE garbage bags of clothes to the St. Vincent de Paul Parish Clothing Drive. I tried selling some things (without a great deal of success) and as I anticipated moving to Jordan, I knew I had to seriously downsize. (The English teacher in me wants to put that word in quotation marks, but the realist argues that it is a word now in common usage. I want to tell you – before this episode was over, I used a whole bunch of words in common usage!)

An aside – when I had met with my Provincial, I had asked for four months mini-sabbatical in between leaving the Xavier Society for the Blind and taking up the new work. I got three. Events proved I was right to ask for four.

So I started with anything that ran on 110 volts, since Jordan is on 220. I packed boxes and moved items and my plan was I would call St. Vincent DePaul to come and bring the truck. I had been told by someone in the parish that they would take anything – and I certainly had a lot of stuff. I had a floor to ceiling bookcase AND a 4-drawer file cabinet that was nothing but music. I was brutal – I took over the living room on the main floor – boxes with CDs, stereo equipment, noise cancelling headphones, lots of books, lots of sheet music. And the amount of stuff remaining was both staggering and embarrassing.

I started making piles of things I wanted to take with me and I investigated storage facilities. The drill for my new assignment was that I would go to Jordan for four months, to see if I liked it and – more to the point – to see if they liked me. Then I would return to the States for a month, to finish the process of putting my life in order, or (if they did NOT like me) to start looking for a new work. They were large piles. I found a company that picked up and provided boxes and maintained your belongings in an online inventory. The price was reasonable and suddenly I found the downstairs entry way filled with large green plastic storage boxes.

A lot of late nights and busy days and gradually I found some room. The parish has an annual yard sale (held inside) called Spring Fling, and someone decided that my stuff would be useful – and I would much rather thinking of my “treasures” helping to support the parish. But even with everything I had brought downstairs, there was SO MUCH left. I tried to be ruthless and heartless but there is so much – and things that, had I been given the extra month, I could have dealt with. I have boxes of slides that need to be digitized – a large carton and two albums of CDs that can be digitized and put in a cloud somewhere. I have a huge collection of cassette tapes that need to be digitized – again, time is the problem. And my sheet music needs to be sorted through, duplicate items pitched and much of that can be digitized as well. It only takes time. Which I didn’t have.

So I packed green boxes, and packed green boxes, and set a date when the movers would come and take them away. Now the problem is – I was allowed two suitcases with my plane ticket, 50 pounds each, and if I wanted a third bag, I could pay an additional $175. After I explored what it costs to send boxes to Jordan, that looked like a good price. But once those storage boxes were picked up, everything else had to fit into those three bags AND be under weight. At the end I compromised, asking the storage people to leave me three extra boxes.

As the departure date drew near, everyone wanted to take me out to lunch or dinner – now where were all these folks earlier, I ask – so hectic was made more so. I had my life carefully scheduled – new lenses for my glasses, visiting the men at the Jesuit infirmary at Fordham in the Bronx, a farewell visit to the Xavier Society – all carefully slotted in. But the movers, who had said I had a window between 10 AM and noon – showed up at 1:30. There was a blizzard – and my eyes were definitely not bigger than my belongings. I filled those three boxes, plus two more carboard boxes. When I weighed the last suitcase, it was 18 pounds over so I started jettisoning  - and when I got to Amman, wasn’t I surprised at some of the things I had left.

But I got it all together – I thought – and the cab came to take me to the airport. Halfway there I realized I had left my overcoat in the hallway, so we had to turn around and go back. Which was a blessing, since I had also left my shoulder bag (a gift from friends that I was not used to carrying). Signs of things to come. I got the airport and the credit card machine wasn’t working, so I paid cash for the trip. Got in line for the airline – and THEIR credit card machine wasn’t working, so it had to be manually recorded which took extra time. (Note on the side - I thought  I had a LOT of luggage with three bags – then I saw what my flying compatriots were bringing with them – six and seven suitcases and boxes and bags.) Then I discovered that the airline doesn’t participate in the TSA pre-check program, so even though I am a registered Pre-Check AND have the Global Re-Entry card – shoes off, BOTH computers out of the bag – and in putting them back in the bag I realize that my thumb drive that always lives in the slot of one of them is missing. Did I leave it at the house, is it at the NY Athletic Club, was it pulled out by accident when I had to unload my computer bag? As I write this, it has not been found, so recent photographs, my password security list and other items are lost. Hopefully really lost, because the password list could be a killer. I’ve changed some – there are some where I had the passwords on automatic – and I have no idea what they were.

Because of the blizzard, many flights were cancelled – so the plane, which seats 300, took off that night with 80 on board. EVERYONE got a row to themselves, so those who wanted to sleep had a grand time. Friendly staff – had a long chat with one flight attendant who grew up in California in a Lebanese family, went to Jordan to visit relatives and loved it and has been in residence there for 5 years. Comfortable seat, good entertainment systems – I’ve said it before and I will say it again – I will NEVER get on an airplane without the noise cancelling headphones. Food was pretty good – although when the drink cart came around, I asked for a beer. (JOHN! It’s a MUSLIM country!) The young lady was a little startled but they got me a beer. I stayed awake much of the night – I had found over the years that flying east, if I could stay awake and nap when I arrived and then get into a regular cycle, I didn’t have the jet lag problem. So I saw two movies I had wanted to see, and read a lot with good classical music in the background, and prayed and thought about what was upcoming, a luxury I had not been able to afford myself in the days before leaving. First time I had seen electronic window shades – instead of the pull down piece of plastic, there is a little series of buttons which increase the darkness of the window. Nice.

Dawn and arrival – changed money, bought the visa, no problem. Collected two bags quickly – ah but there were three. So I went to Baggage Service, told to go to security – told to go to Royal Jordanian – and they said to go to security. Back and there was my bag. Bought a bottle of scotch for the community at the Duty free – I had been told it had better prices than I would find in Amman – and FINALLY got through. Before leaving the baggage area, they xray all your luggage. Yes, leaving the airport, and it was there (well and at security) I discovered that Jordanians can be pushy. Made me feel right at home.

Fr. Michael Linden, the Jesuit Superior, was there to pick me up – two luggage carts – and off into Amman. Because Friday is the day of prayer, the traffic is usually lighter, but since I was so delayed, there was some. And again – that pushiness business I mentioned before? Carries over to the style of driving. Home – I have a nice room, with a bathroom attached. It is a shared bath but there is no one in room 2 so it’s mine, all mine. I had something to eat, visited a little and went to unpack. Starting to get a tickle I the throat which usually is the sign of coming illness, so I bundled up and went to bed.

THE JESUIT COMMUNITY
Let me take you on a short tour of where I live and work and where a lot of other stuff goes on. The house is built on a hillside, so when you enter from the street, you are on the middle of three floors (not counting the roof). The Jesuit rooms are at the very bottom of the house, along a long corridor. Many of the rooms have a shared bath down the hall, so I am extra happy at my mostly private arrangement. Fr. Linden explained one of the aspects of the house – small sewage pipes, so there is a sign above the toilet reminding me not to flush ANY paper down the toilet. (Think about that for a minute. Yup, and they mean it.) There is a little hose with a spray nozzle attached, which serves the purpose of cleaning you up, and the toilet paper is used for drying off, and deposited into a bucket next to the toilet. Always good to master a new skill.
The view from the roof
The outside view from the back of the house - the veranda where I sit is the bottom level


Looking down into one of the many garden areas


The water from the tap is drinkable, but it’s very hard and there are lots of bottles of water available, and two hot/cold water fountains for the two community floors. We get water once a week so we are careful about use. We have 12 meter tanks that get filled. Upstairs from the bedrooms (and the laundry room and the exercise room and some storage closets) is the Jesuit community space, which is about one half of that floor. We have a small tv area, a large snack area, the main kitchen, the Superior’s office, mailboxes and bulletin boards, then a dining room and opposite that a Diwal – sort of a large parlor, which is a greeting area but not used for meetings. Near the tv area is a mini library with books and magazines. Then there is a locked door which leads into the Jesuit Center – offices mostly on this floor, with two classrooms. On the floor above is the chapel, and a space outside the chapel door. There are two large rooms (pone set up as a classroom/lecture hall and the other an open space, currently occupied by some ping pong tables) and a couple of smaller meeting rooms, and my office, also with a small waiting area outside. 

Our cook, from Bethlehem


Electricity is expensive, so there are electric eyes all over which turn on lights in corridors and staircases when you walk, but which pop them off after a set interval.
The community dining room

There are a number of entrances into the building, so meetings and activities can enter without having to involve other people, and programs start early and go late six days a week. There are a number of balconies on all side of the building, and of course, the roof, which is available for parties and cookouts.  But NO SMOKING (grumble)


Close up of the statue of the Blessed Mother

Olive wood



The chapel at the Jesuit Center

Just outside my bedroom
Out on the veranda for some sun












































THE GROUNDS
I have to say a word or two about the grounds. Remember, because we are on a hillside, there are levels and terraces and they are all planted – some with fruits and vegetables, some with flowers, some with grass and benches or chairs for small groups. We grow our own olives (mostly for oil) and herbs and spices – lots of flowers – grapes – and we make our own peanut butter and jams and olive oil and I am still learning about what goes on there. On the very bottom, the refugee program has a trailer arrangement with four rooms for classes and administration.

AND IT WAS MORNING AND EVENING, AND THE FIRST DAY
I arrived on a Friday, awoke on a Saturday and I knew I was sick. I had some remedies but my usual cornucopia cupboard of medicinal mayhem that all singers amass had suffered the triage of packing and I had very little. I went to the 8:30 Mass – and the celebrant had us singing, so naturally I stood out. I was introduced and started meeting people. I was distracted during Mass, looking out the window. There is a Mosque, with the tall minaret sticking up – and then a cross on top of a structure which turned out to be the Coptic Church, and the across the street another cross, which I later discovered was the Greek Orthodox Church. Had something to eat, and Fr. Linden took me on a tour (which you just had above) and we chatted for a while. He is very organized, and is making me feel very welcome. No pressure or rush to get to work – and given the way I felt, that was a gift. The main meal of the day is at 1 PM and we all try to gather for that. Our cook is from Bethlehem, a round and jolly sort, and boy can he cook. Usually we start with a soup, then a salad and a couple of choices for entrĂ©e. He brews a special tea each day (green tea with mint leaves, orange tea, that sort of thing) and fruit for dessert. I went with Fr. Linden to one of the churches for the evening Mass, and he had me sing an Alleluia as part of his homily, so people got to get a look at me.
Fr John at the Swefieh Church

The Grotto under the Church


The First Communion class and their teacher

Altar Servers

More Servers
































The Church is very nice. The Pastor has a particular devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes so he has created a grotto underneath the church. The space is carved out of stone, and the statue of the Blessed Mother is lit by a blue light, rather reminiscent of an aquarium. I met the First Communion class and the choir and given how badly I was feeling, I think I did rather well. One of those present dropped Fr. Linden a note, saying that “Fr. John seems very warm, and Lulu thinks he looks like Santa with his beard,” so the early review is good.

THE SECOND DAY
I’m counting Saturday as the first day - so now I’m up to Sunday. Rain – and I am feeling worse and the cough is tearing up my throat so I visited my office for a little bit but spent most of the time in my room, cuddled up and dozing off on a regular basis. On Friday and Sunday there is no served meal, it’s whatever is in the fridge – and the fridges are generously stocked, so the exercise room and I are going to have to be friends with lots of time spent together. I had said I’d go with Fr. Peter to another of “my” churches but I punted. Early bed.

THE THIRD DAY (Don’t worry I won’t keep up these headings after the First Week)
Monday and a new week and whole new dimensions of being sick. And tired. Apparently my body has discovered jet lag and with a vengeance. The elevation might have something to do with it, the cold weather – the boiler went out for a bit, but bless him, the head of the Jesuit Centre brought me a space heater. Morning Mass at the house chapel, something to eat and there was a meeting of heads of ministry later in the morning, so I went. Didn’t have anything to contribute but I thought I should sit in – and ended up with a refugee reference and a funding suggestion, so I at least held my own. Lunch and a nap – unintended but there it was just the same. I am lacking in energy so I’m reading and dozing off and getting settled.

As the week went on I got better. I signed up for the morning Mass on Wednesday, so that gave me a little impetus – sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” at the request of some of the sisters. I had mentioned Harold Arlen, whose birthday was that Wednesday, and the reading for Mass was the Genesis section right after the ark landed – it stopped before we got to the rainbow but the coincidence was too great to leave alone. Went for a shopping trip with Ibrahim from the Center, got a new keyboard for my office computer and a Sim card for the new cell phone and asked about a small stereo system. At some point the throat will be cured and healed and I will need to start a regimen of serious singing. The goal of traffic in Jordan, aided by a whole bunch of police, is apparently to never stop, just blend in and intimidate people who might possibly want to enter the same space to which you are moving. Not as outright aggressive as driving in Lagos, but certainly pushy.  Home for lunch, worked in the office in the afternoon for a little, just learning my way around. We got a new tv set in the house and so a couple of us played with the controls to figure out the satellite stations (we tie into two satellites) and the streaming station – still can’t figure that one out. Too tempting, so off for some reading and trying to organizing files. Often in the evening people drop in from the refugee center and the assorted classes that go on. The Center is doing a weekly film night on the theme Sports and Humanity – tonight (Thursday the 16th for those of you trying to keep up) is Sea Biscuit. Interesting to see how THAT works into the theme.

THE COMMUNITY
Fr. Michael Linden is the Superior. Spent time in Jamaica, and worked in the Jesuit Conference Office in Washington for a while. Thinks of everything – not only does my new car have a GPS, it is already programmed with the locations of all the Churches we visit, the one sick person I will be visiting, and several of the homes of leaders of different groups in the parishes.

Fr Peter Schineller was regional superior in Nigeria when I was there, and for 5 ½ years I was his assistant. He was also on the Xavier Society for the Blind Board when he got the notice to go to Jordan. He is a teacher and a serious scholar and writer, and highly disciplined. He is doing some teaching here several times a week, and Fr. Linden was one of his students at one point.

Fr. Gerard Metal is a diocesan priest from the Philippines who has been sent here to try and set up a Filipino parish. That will take the Filipino community out of our English language groups, but no one is quite sure how or if this will work out. At the moment he is living in our community, and we’re trying to do what we can to help. In a year, we and the Bishop should have a better sense of what that future might hold.

Fr. Cedric Prakash is an Indian Jesuit who is visiting, working for Jesuit Refugee Services. He is based in Beirut but travels through this Region, doing some teaching and evaluating. Only with us for about a week.

We also have a young Nigerian pilot, Pascal, who stays with us when he is on leave. He is training at the local military base, where he stays during the week. He is flying jet aircraft but since Peter and I both spent time in Nigeria (Peter had 20 years, I was only there for 12) we have great conversations.

Pascal the pilot

Fr. Gerald on the far left, Fr. Michael on the right and visitors in the middle

Fr. Peter making a new friend






























MORNING MASS
The Mass group is a real mixed bunch. On the first day Fr. Peter introduced me, and so everyone wanted to come up after Mass and say hello. They all speak English but that is not the native language of most, so I got to chat in German and French with some of the sisters. One morning I was in the chapel and a woman came in and took the flowers off the stand on which the statue of Blessed Mother holding the Infant Jesus sits. I thought she was going to replace the flowers. Nope – she took the statue off the stand and gave it a long hug, replaced it, put the flowers back and went on her way. Lovely moment.

The Chapel is on the top floor (not counting the roof garden) and it can be distracting. On the first day I noticed the Mosque (LARGE!) and then the Coptic Church and just down the block, the Greek Orthodox, which is one of the (if not the) oldest Churches in Amman (which used to be called Philadelphia, by the way.) We don’t get rain a lot (I have been told) and during my first 5 days it has rained for 4 of them. Never seen an umbrella, people just walk fast and get wet. Lots of hoods on coats but nary a brollie.

NOT COMPLETELY AS ADVERTISED
Some of the things I had been told in advance have turned out to be absolutely accurate. There is NO smoking anywhere on the rather spacious compound – not on the roof nor in any of the garden areas and if you try it in the building, you will be escorted out. And it IS cold in the building when it gets cold outside. Temps currently in the 20’s and 30’s. On the other hand, I had been warned that (as is the case in many Jesuit communities) we do our own laundry and cleaning. Fair enough. Apparently the two women who work in the building weren’t told, so they have come bustling into my room to clean the bathroom, make the bed, and take the laundry, which is returned washed and folded several hours later. I can, I have been told, ask them to not to that. (And I say in the silence of my mind, “Are you crazy? Anyone who wants to clean and do laundry is MOST welcome.”) The cook is here for one meal a day, except for Friday and Sunday – but he cooks enough so that there are LOTS of leftovers, and often he will whip up something in the morning. I’ve been eating more than usual, but since my office is 3 flights up – and everything is up from the residence floor – and it’s all pretty healthy, I’ve actually lost a couple of pounds.

Lightly roast the peanuts
We make our own peanut butter (there are pictures) and grow olives which we press for oil. We make jams, and our own humus and the quality of the food is very good.  
Pour peanuts into bowl



Grind until smooth and delicious - nothing added


THE CHURCHES
The “English Speaking Parish” is not a single entity – and with the new attempt to create a separate Filipino chaplaincy some of what had been in this group has been siphoned off, where Mass is in English AND Tagalog simultaneously. There is a chapel here in the Center, where we celebrate morning Mass every morning but Sunday. (We are technically not a church, so we’re not allowed to have real candles – apparently the fine if we are caught using real candles is several hundred dollars, so we have the imitation electric ones.) As Pastor I am in charge of keeping the chapel up to date and I say the Friday Mass and others during the week and I get first crack on special feasts. On First Friday we follow Mass with Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament for an hour. And then I go and visit the sick of the parish. On special feast days we will add a 6 PM Mass here. On Thursday there is a Mass at the OWWA Shelter (part of the Philippine embassy) but that is now in the Filipino domain. On Friday the Filipino community has a Sunday Mass at noon at Jabal Luweibdeh except for the third Friday, which I say in English, just English (since my Tagalog is a little rusty). Each Saturday (as Pastor) I celebrate Mass at Sweifieh (St. Mary Nazareth Church)  at 5 PM (confessions from 4:30 and on Sunday evening at Freres Church (Jabal Hussein – St. Jean Baptiste de LaSalle) at 6 PM. Every third Sunday I also say a Sunday morning Mass at Jabal Amman at 11:30. And there is a US military base near us which sometimes asks for help, and two American forces compounds inside Jordanian bases, where our troops are working with the Jordanian forces – for instance, on Ash Wednesday, I will say the 8:30 Mass, another of the community will do the 6 PM and Fr. Michael and I are going out to the two compounds for Mass (and ashes) there. We will also do “Ash Sunday” – ie distribute ashes on the first Sunday of Lent.


Freres Church - St Jean Baptiste de LaSalle

Imagine me behind the altar


My view except full of people

My first visit one of the parishioners who works in the palace brought me a gift from the Princess.
Inside a lovely yogurt based sweet

There is a group of musicians who provide music at the Saturday and Sunday Masses – one of several things I need to work on. Someone suggested there might be interest among the refugees here in forming a Jesuit Refugee Choir – THAT could be fun. I was going to buy a small CD player for myself so I could use it for my own singing and if I ever decided to perform anywhere…. Apparently CD’s are passe and very difficult to find anything that plays CDs here. So I am re-thinking my plan of action. They did get a new piano in the chapel only a couple of weeks before I got here so that is something. You know how I enjoy a challenge.

BEING A TOURIST
I’ve been out and around the city a couple of times, with Ibrahim for shopping and with Ibrahim when I did my first stint driving in the city. But on Monday the 20th, the community was invited to go with Dr Gyozo Voros (there are a bunch of accents on his Hungarian name that I have NO idea how to produce on my word processor – and which probably would not survive in the transit to a blog spot.) He is the head Archeologist for the Machaerus Excavation and if you don’t know anything about it, trust me, in the next several pages you will. I will be able to give you a minute fraction of what he explained to us over the course of this day trip, which was only a very small part of everything he knows. He has been with this project for several years and is contracted until 2029. He has a PhD in Greo-Egyptian Archeology, and is a member of pretty much every prestigious world organization in the field.

So the plan was to go out on the 20th of February and visit Mt. Nebo, Madabar and Machaerus, perhaps with a stop at another site on the way back, depending on time. And we would join his family for a Hungarian meal when we returned. The only problem was this was the day that my friend Robert Pedersen and his friend Beata were supposed to join me for lunch. Yes, I’ve been here one week and two days and I had friends dropping in. LOVE it! I know Robert from the NY Athletic Club, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Knights of Malta – he’s a busy rascal, and went on the first two pilgrimages with the Xavier Society for the Blind.

So I emailed him, explained the situation and invited them to join us for the day. They said yes, so we decided on two cars (I was going to get to drive!) and we were ready.

On Monday morning they were going to join us for Mass – which I was celebrating – so since our place can be hard to find, even for a Jordanian cab driver, I went to stand by the front gate. Forget cab driver – there they were in a rental car. Long flight from the US on Sunday and bless their hearts, they rented a car (with GPS) and set out into Amman. They joined us for Mass and breakfast – watched our cook make fresh peanut butter – Gyozo, our archaeologist guide -  joined us – and we were off to Mt. Nebo.

This is, in legend, the place where Moses stood and looked at the Promised Land he was not going to be allowed to enter. And where, in theory, he is buried. You can see Jericho clearly from the top of the mountain, and on a VERY clear day you can “see” Jerusalem – the top of some high towers at the university and if you’re there in the morning, maybe the reflection off the dome on the rock. The problem is that there are several mountains that match the biblical description, so whether or not this is THE place is mostly a matter of tradition.

But adding to the tradition, this has been widely accepted as “the place” since the 6th century and slightly before. Now remember, pilgrimages were big business, and this site happened to be right on a major Roman road – so travel was easy and pilgrims could get to it. There is a long history of a church being on the site and a small museum traces the history of the excavations. One of the truly extraordinary dimensions of this place is the designation of it as a Christian shrine under the protection of the government department of religious places – or whatever the correct title is. There are a number of “biblical” sites that are protected but as historical or religious under Islamic bureaucracy. But this is a designated “Christian” site – see the picture of the large rock tablet with the inscription.
 
Our guide briefing us in the parking lot

Baeata made a friend even before we got to the Church

A Christian shrine protected by the Muslim government

Demonstrating the two meter crocodile caught in 1932

The Franciscans were in charge of the excavation – and the current facility reflects the tension between being an archaeological site, a museum and a Church. There is a prohibition in Islamic law about building a new church, so they had to “renovate” the old church site. They actually got to buy the site – and wanted to erect a structure that would both protect and show off some of the elaborate mosaics that had been in the old church. But the existing excavated walls were not strong enough to act as a foundation for any additional construction, so as they were excavated, they were disassembled and re-built. The current Church – fairly modern, after a recent project that was around $18 million – has those rebuilt walls with newer walls added on top. So it is not really any more an archaeological site.

 
You can see the old walls - although rebuilt - and the more modern new walls

Beata stops for a glamor shot before entering the church
To the right are the columns that show where the floor was when they started the excavation.
The mosaic is in its original position - several meters below the floor surface

The extraordinary mosaic with the picture of many animals - the lower right is the giraffe that looks like a camel



The stained glass in the new chapel section

The center image, Moses holding up his hands so the Israelites would win the battle

It IS home to some extraordinary mosaics – and one level dates back to 530 AD. They were buried under layers – I have a picture where you can see the most famous and elaborate mosaic and next to it small pillars which show where the floor level was when the excavation started that eventually uncovered these. It is an interesting museum, although as a museum not well-signed and with many of the interesting and important items and areas unaccessible. But it is more successful as a museum than as a Church, because as  Church, you have people constantly wandering through, talking, guides explaining and people taking pictures. There was a pilgrimage group having a Mass when we were there, and you could see the problem instantly.


There are 3 different baptistries in the church

The empty tomb of Moses?

Lots of mosaics, some in place, some on the walls for better viewing




Gyozo explained that one of the things we had to keep in mind was the great environmental change in Jordan and especially in this area. When Jesus walked the land, we tend to think of the desert climate we find today. But in his time, and for a long time afterwards, the countryside was green and lush and a virtual paradise. There is different evidence to support that. One is that there used to be a lot of lions in the area – lion hunting was an event into the early 20th century, and the last lion was in the 1930’s. If there are lions in great numbers, that means there are lesser creatures in even greater number – think lion food – and there has to be vegetation to sustain them. The water situation was also very different. Today most of the water from the River Jordan is taken by Israel, so not only does Jordan have a basic water problem, with the addition of over a million refugees in a country that counts its own population at 6.5 million or so, it is a tremendous strain. There are places in the country that only get water every 40 days – and one community that was pointed out to us gets water every 80 days. They had several members of the village who went to fight with ISIS and so the village is being punished. Last week (the 3rd week) the Jordanian government executed 15 who were charged with assisting ISIS. They ar every serious about that here.

The large mosaic had lions and bears but on the bottom also has an ostrich, a zebra and although to us it may look like a camel, it is a depiction of a giraffe. Although not on this mosaic, there were elephants in those days that were only one meter high. This from the mosaic that dates to 530 AM. In the 1930’s, there was captured a crocodile that was over two meters long and was still lion hunting into the 20th century. The change in environment from the time of Christ to today is extraordinary and paints a biblical picture for many of us that is simply not accurate.

Another fascinating tidbit – of course the tomb of Moses has never been found. But in the excavations, they did – only in 2012 – find a tomb in the absolute center of the Church, going back in all likelihood to its original construction. There were no bones in the tomb, and no other relics – but the walls were lined with a precious stone, hard to find in this area and unusual for a tomb. Nothing has been published about this – although the tomb in the church is available to see. Could it be the tomb of Moses? Could it have been constructed as a lure for pilgrims? (There were dormitories around the edge of the property at one point for pilgrims.) There is not as much traffic today because the site was closed for a number of years fort excavation and the momentum in the tourist trade has not returned.) No one wants to publish anything because without any additional evidence – the tomb of Moses? Problematic.

The church is high on a mountain, and so we went outside where there has been erected a giant cross with a snake on it, reminiscent of the pole Moses set up so that anyone who had been bitten by a serpent could look on the cross and be cured. It is generally seen as a foreshadowing of the cross of Jesus. It is an impressive piece. You can see the Dead Sea from this site, as you can from Machaerus. And an important note for travelers – they have bathrooms.


Moses, I presume?

Looking toward the Promised Land

Our intrepid group gathers at the foot of the Cross


Leaving Mt. Nebo we headed out to Madaba. An orthodox church – and when a group of early Arab Christians were driven from their town, they were looking for a place with an old Church – there’s that bit again about not being allowed to build a new church, but they could renovate something that had previously existed. So they found this church dating back to 451, now St George Orthodox Church– and at some point, they created this mosaic on the floor of the Church – there remains only about 18% of the original, because apparently in covered the whole floor of the church. Remember we are talking about approximately 6th century - and it was aimed at pilgrims, travelers, who wanted to know where in the world they were. And this map showed them. The church itself is essentially the same structure, unchanged over all the years, although there has been interior decorating and superficial updates but the basic size and style remains unaltered.

St. George's Church - largely unaltered for thousands of years

Explaining the importance of the mosaic both as a map and a look into history





And on to the main item of the day, Machaerus. I’ll include some explanations with the pictures so they make sense. Our guide in the head archaeologist in charge of the excavation. This is a palace that had originally been built by a Hasmonean king around 90BC but taken by one of Pompey’s generals in 57 BC and then re-designed for King Herod the Great in about 30 BC – one of about five he had scattered around the country. He left this one to his son, Herod Antipas – the Herod who beheaded John the Baptist and who had the audience with Jesus during Holy Week. Note – his father only gave him ONE of the palaces, which to my mind says something about something.
This is the mount on top of which the palace was build. The track down the side is where they have been dumping rubbish as they clear the site. You can also see fortification walls along the side.

People used to live in caves cut into the mountain - and still do

This is where we parked to begin the trek up the mountain - never a horse and chariot when you really want one

Herod did not like Jerusalem, so he spent a lot of time at this palace, and it was here – and we pretty much can determine the spot by the design of the palace – where Salome (although her name is not in Scripture) danced for Herod, and where she got the head of the Baptist as her reward. After Antipas, Herod Agrippa had the palace until his death in 44 AD when it passed to Roman control. In 72AD it was used by Zealots fighting against Rome – you can see where a siege ramp was being constructed although never finished, along the lines of the one at Masada – when the zealots surrendered the site was destroyed down to the foundations. And for centuries its exact location was unknown, which means that it provides historians and archaeologists with essentially a time capsule of the 2nd Temple period.

Jordanian sheep are in high demand throughout the Arab world for the holy days
They meet a standard of ritual purity that means they bring a high price

Very acrobatic in stripping trees - and very destructive

One of several Bedouin camps in the area raising sheep



Because our guide knew the best way in, we drove around the area set up for tourists and parked along a back road, and walked about 20 minutes up a fairly steep inclined road to the top (insert heavy breathing).Our guide walked us through the major moments of the excavation – at time resembling a mountain goat, hopping from one set of ruins to another, and some what I thought were perilously close to a LONG drop. I have visions of a slip and a slide and a lot of paperwork with the local police. No accidents, no trips and an amazing graduate level look at this extraordinary palace, with a view of the Dead Sea, and the surrounding countryside. Like Masada, this was not a site to be easily taken by an opposing force.


The road was created to bring up heavy equipment for excavating

You can see the unfinished siege ramp built by the Romans in the war against the Zealots.
Unlike Masada, they surrendered, and the Romans leveled the palace


Apparently there was a community outside the palace – on the side of the hill at the bottom – and this is where John was kept, not in a prison as is commonly imagined. He had the ability to send and receive messengers, so it is more likely that he was in what we would call “house arrest” with his disciples rather than in a cell.

I can't seem to easily put pictures in order - but we learned that there are two kinds of construction - one takes stones and cuts and joins them without mortar, so the weight of the stones acts to keep walls and other elements together. Later work made use of more uniformly shaped stoned and mortar. The picture below is of an exploratory hole sunk to see how deep the construction went and what styles were being used. 

Atop the site

The biggest Mikvah - ritual cleansing bath - ever seen - just for Herod, apparently. There are at least 2 others on the site. 

Inside the smaller Mikvah just used for women

The Dead Sea

Like a great jigsaw awaiting reconstruction

Oh dear God, I'm as big as the pillar

A group of Korean tourists climbed to the top to pray

Fr Gerald took the picture - everyone else is present

What goes up, must come down. Slowly

I could do twenty pages on what we learned and saw and heard – and the little bits of detective work and assumptions that were later confirmed by excavations. The history of the dig over the years is a major story in itself (soon to be a major motion picture? Probably not but….) I want to get this narrative off and into the hands of anxious readers, so I will refrain from too much information – there may be an appendix at a later date. We are going back on March 22 with the staff from the Center, some of the staff from JRS (Jesuit Refugee Services) and some of the “leaders” from the different Mas sites – right now it looks like about 30, but that number could grow during the week. And another chance to learn more history and take more pictures.

So we walked down the hill, had a light picnic at the cars, and headed past the Bedouin tents and their sheep to a burial site at the foot of the hill. Again – the biblical image and the reality of the times don’t exactly match. The drill of the day for the Jews was to carve graves out of rock – but rather than a single grave, they carved a series of slots in the mountain into which bodies would be placed – the one we visited had nine. The body would be placed and oils and spices applied – the purpose of which was to hasten decomposition. In about 18 months the flesh would be gone, and all that would be left would be bones. They would be gathered by a family member and placed in a box – an ossuary – specifically designed for this. Sometimes one set to a box, but sometimes several could be included. The last bones to go in were the longest, the thigh bones, and they would be crossed diagonally to save room and then the skull would be added. Yes, that’s where the notion of skull and crossed bones comes from. From Jewish burial to a pirate flag – go figure.
Outside an empty tomb

In this tomb there were nine slots for bodies

A picnic after a climb is ALWAYS a good idea


Beata wanted one of us to go into one of the tombs and lie down
No takers - and it would have been a GREAT picture!

Once the bones were in the ossuary it would be returned to one of the grave slots, and as other family members died, their bones would be added. See photo. So when the women went to the tomb on what we call Easter Sunday to “anoint” the body of Jesus, the idea was to hasten decomposition.

Taking a picture of the hump

A nice piece of neck, freshly cut yesterday

Many choices with a camel

Some signs don't need Arabic

This is the way we stew the neck
Nicely cooked and drained


Add the vegetable and garnish

you need some of the hump to add fat

From there we drove back to Amman, with a quick stop at the camel shop to get some meat for lunch later in the week. The meat was fresh so we got a nice piece of neck, and some hump – the meat is very lean, practically no fat, so you need some added fat to help tenderize it in the cooking. And it was delicious. We headed to the flat of our guide for the day and his wife – they are Hungarian had prepared a goulash for us. Except, of course it wasn’t just goulash – it was soup and it was lasagna and then it was goulash and sweet pastries. They have two delightful children who were very present, and it was a lovely evening, and a great way to end the day.

As I add pictures I note that although my good friend Robert did not join us for the excursion he did join us for the dinner - and somehow between my photos and Beata's, he manages to appear in none of them. 
Our guide and Fr Michael solving the problems of the world

Beata and her new best friend Lulu

When you have guests, you must dance to entertain them
Although if your name is John that can make you nervous
Lulu's big brother, Alex,. gives her a kiss. 

Lulu is very cute

So you can see, life in Amman is not dull. My two friends from America get the silver medal for stamina – a 10 ½ hour flight from New York to Amman, some sleep and they were up and with us for the day.

WELCOMING THE BISHOP
We are in between Patriarchs, so technically the current Patriarch is the Administrator but he is the one who will formally appoint me as Pastor. There is also a new Bishop, and there was a great Mass at the Church in Sweifieh to welcome him, and bid farewell to the outgoing Bishop, who is heading, I believe, to a new assignment in Jerusalem. Pretty much a command performance for priests of the diocese. I did get a chance to chat with the Patriarch administrator after the Mass. My first Mass in Arabic – the Church was packed – but very well organized, the choir sang Mozart (go figure!) commendably and it was a lovely experience.

The new Bishop received visitors from 4 until 9 that day and the next day, which was a Saturday, so after our 5 PM Mass we went into the Church hall to pay our respects, and spent several minutes chatting with him. His English is quite good and he seemed interested in our work and especially in the new guy – that would be me.

Priests gather before the Mass
Can you find Waldo (aka Fr John?)

Fr Michael and I think the Nuncio's assistant

And someone volunteered to take a picture of the three of us,


SETTLING IN
I write this in the first week of March and the weather has gotten warmer. For several days after lunch I went out on the little veranda outside my bedroom and sat in the sun for an hour and read – and maybe dozed a little. The staff and cleaning ladies have gotten used to me, I’ve gotten my office set up and running, gone over accounts and finances and schedules. I’m going to make a few small changes – I “officially” started as Pastor on March 1 – Ash Wednesday. I do not become completely official until I am named by the Patriarch, and it is anyone’s guess when that will be.
My new car - so new I had to take the plastic off the seats

My office - 50% for work, 50% for hiding out

Another view from another verands

So as I continue to jot things down – it is now March 6 and not only have I been Pastor for 6 days, I had a welcome reception at Sweifieh after the Mass last Saturday (the group at Freres wants to give me a party after Easter, which I said was fine – can’t have too many parties). I’ve visited the sick, done solo Masses in three of the 5 locations and this coming week I will preach at the two at which I will be making my first appearance. I have started a weekly Newsletter, which I will crank out each week to make sure everyone stays in touch, and have created a Facebook group – private, you have to ask to join – Parish Group is the less than creative name. Another group already snagged “Sacred Heart English Language Parish” for a public page. I also have admin rights on our web page so I have started adding things to the Sacred Heart Church section (www.jordanjesuits.org). I’ve started to chip away at the music – I’ve asked the two groups at the weekend Masses to abandon their guitars for Lent, and pick 4 hymns we will sing at all the Masses during Lent, so that by the end of Lent, people will be more comfortable singing, and will KNOW the songs. God, please send me some more singers! I know enough to make changes slowly – so I check myself every time I start to get a bright idea. But we have three for First Communion in May, and we are going to do a renewal of Marriage Vows in June. Several Polish couples from the Embassy approached me about the blessing of baskets as part of the Easter Vigil and I said absolutely – and I am going to encourage other families to take part. Here it is apparently a local custom that at Easter, the Christians give chocolate to the Muslims. I guess I’ll be buying chocolate in the next weeks.

We do have guest rooms, although pretty much only for men. Sorry. But there is a very nice and not expensive hotel about a block away, and if we make the reservation, you get a discount. Or we get a kick back which we share. But the food is good and lots of either American brands or copycats.

Available at C-Town, about four blocks away


I am probably missing fascinating tidbits about life in Amman because I am getting used to them. For instance there is a sign next to the toilet – next to every toilet in the building – to NOT flush ANY paper down the toilet. The pipes are too small to handle any paper, so there is a hose with a sprinkler head next to each toilet – a variation on the old bidet notion – and the toilet paper used to dry yourself is deposited into a covered waste basket next to the toilet. Takes a little getting used to but beats going out the back door to the two seater in the back yard. Or the little hut at the end of the pier across the road from the Jesuit house on Yap.

So, Gentle Reader, thus comes to an end the first edition of Father John in Jordan – more to come as adventures happen. And I am sure they will. I will be back in the States in June for about a month, mostly to get rid of most of the stuff I am paying extravagant rates to store and box the things I want to keep and fill three suitcases again for the return to Amman in early July. That will take most of my time – I have agreed to a couple of events and it is the 25th anniversary of my ordination. Not really “leave” as much as necessary housecleaning. Yikes. I am NOT looking forward to that.

But at least I have a clear idea of what I can use and do – I may take up a collection to pay to ship some things. It is REALLY expensive, this shipping business. Sigh.

In the first three weeks I have been here, five friends have died, all younger than I, and three friends have lost parents. That is perhaps the hardest part of being away. We get some things streamed, but there are country blocks on a lot of stuff so while the service is there, you quickly discover that it is not allowed in Jordan. We are absolutely, positively NOT allowed to convert a Muslim to Christianity and the Secret Police are very tough about that. Muslims who have converted outside of Jordan are fine, whether here as refugees or tourists or come for other reasons. We are not allowed to hire foreigners for work, we must hire Jordanians except in rare circumstances, and once they have worked for 30 days, they have extraordinary rights in terms of retaining employment – ie, tough to fire them, even for cause. Which means if you don’t have a good worker, tough to actually make them work. We are blessed at the Jesuit Center, but we pay attention.

It is not dangerous but we pay attention to security. I have 12 keys on the king ring I carry around and know where the keys are hidden for three or four other doors. We also have code access to some parts of the building but as a resident I have a sensor disk attached to the key chain which releases the door so I don’t have to punch the code. Well, codes, since there are two different codes for different doors. A man washes my car at least once a week, and if I need something, I can send someone. I don’t want to get too used to that but it is handy. I was asked if I wanted a secretary, maybe part-time a couple of days a week. (Is this a hardship posting?) I said let’s wait until I have a clearer idea of what I will be doing and how someone could help.

I am about to start serious work on Arabic, I plan to investigate the several Rotary Clubs in town as a way to meet more people and while I know I won’t do anything until I return from my next visit, several people have talked about a concert. I have not been to Petra but at some point I know I will go – and Aqaba and the Dead Sea and the place at the Jordan where John baptized Christ (and yes, it’s on this side of the river). I have friends in Lebanon and I have long wanted to visit that country, many friends in Israel and I’ve never been to Egypt, so over the next several years I hope to do some “local” travel, especially once the Arabic gets to a minimal level. They tell me it should only take a couple of years.

Did I mention that in the first three weeks I have – while eating very well – managed to drop seven pounds? Onwards. Hugs all around, and please keep me in your prayers, as I certainly do all the people I miss in the States. It’s a very different pace, very different kind of work, but the warmth and the joy with which I have been greeted tells me there is a need here I may be able to help fill.

I have a mobile phone, in addition to the number for the Jesuit Center, and my own extension. There is a 7 hour time difference from the east coast, and we are closed on Friday and Monday. I often have the phone turned off, or silent, so if you call, you’ll end up paying rates for leaving a message, so I try to suggest email over phone calls unless it’s urgent.


God bless. 

2 comments:

Nick Leshi said...

Wow,such a wonderful post. Thank you, Father. I enjoyed reading it. So many fascinating tidbits! If this a sign of things to come, this will be an amazing chronicle and we lucky readers will feel as if we are sharing your adventures with you!

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