Jordan: The Church in the heart of prisons

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Jordan: The Church in the heart of prisons

A special report from Jwaideh Women’s Prison, South of Amman

The Hashemite Kingdom has nearly 200 Christian prisoners in its 13 prisons. Twice a week, a small volunteer team run by CHRISTIAN HOPE OFFICE/ LATIN VICARIATE, visits these men and women to pray and support them.

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An Egyptian priest, a Filipino priest, and Jordanian priest, a handful of sisters from different congregations, volunteers from Caritas and lay people: A very international team sets out for Jwaideh prison. And for good reason the prisoners they visit also come from all continents. The women’s prison in Amman has about 600 detainees, nearly 60 are Christian women. “The government only allows us to visit Christians,” says Rakan – the volunteer form Caritas.

Once the laptops wisely are stored in the car, the small team enters the huge building. In a small cramped room, women in blue uniforms parade in small groups by nationality. “The purpose of our visit is first of all to pray with these women and to support them.

Eyes tired but smiling, Samia shakes hands with the sisters to implore their prayers. Before entering behind these walls, this young Jordanian, who studies philosophy in her spare time, worked precisely for this prison administration. Her presence here is an irony of fate, unless you see the hand of God, as she strives to. “It’s been a month since I’ve been here and I have not done anything about it, I’ve taken it for someone else, I think the Lord wants me to spend some time in jail to see how much people are suffering here I must go out soon, maybe today, tomorrow, I do not know … Pray for me.”

Beside him, Fr. Yousef, a priest of Anjara makes his way to hear the confession of a prisoner. We are far from the intimacy of a confessional but the Lord is there. A little further, a Sri Lankan sister exchanges conversation with some girls of the same nationality. Patient, she lists all requests for “airline tickets”. “Very often, these women of Sri Lanka are not guilty of very serious crimes, their wrongdoing was to flee their employer before the end of the contract, sometimes they were abused, some stole but the crimes rarely go further. Caritas helps them return home; without its help, these women could stay in this prison all their lives because embassies do not help,” Rakan continues.

The small group of Jordanian men and women retire to give way to the Filipinos. In the same way as Sri Lankans, these very young women have often left their country to find a job in Jordan. “On paper, the jobs of servants are very attractive but when they arrive here, these women are disillusioned. They stay locked up 24 hours a day, and so they flee. The employers call the police and they find themselves here, in prison” explains Fr. Gerald, chaplain in charge of the Filipino community in Jordan. With a joyful and playful tone, this young chaplain does not hesitate to motivate his troops by catchy altercations. “Repeat after me, ‘I love God’!” he says in the noisy hallway. Even the delicate Muslim guards take this chorus to heart. African women have also joined this improvised praise. “The power of words is immense,” continues Fr. Gerald. “That’s what saves”.

In addition to this administrative and spiritual support, the volunteer team sometimes provides material assistance, with inmates receiving only two meals a day and very little access to basic necessities. Sometimes, the small team also brings something to occupy their time: equipment to make rosaries or a book to learn a new language. “They are waiting for us to come because we are looking at the human person, not the prisoner,” Rakan concluded.

Among the many faces he has encountered, he remembers particularly the Romanian detainee who had chosen to offer all its computer equipment to other prisoners once released from prison, as a tribute to the Church that saved him.

Wed, 03/14/2018 - 09:30
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