Priest in Amman: My life among Mosul’s refugees

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Working closely with refugees means “sharing” their story and personal tragedy, becoming “part of their life” and contributing- as much as possible – to “alleviating their suffering.”
AMMAN: Working closely with refugees means “sharing” their story and personal tragedy, becoming “part of their life” and contributing- as much as possible – to “alleviating their suffering.” And over time becoming part of their family, like in the case of little Mariana “conceived in Mosul [Iraq], fled to Erbil [Iraqi Kurdistan] while in her mother’s womb, born in Amman [Jordan] and with a future in Canberra [Australia]”. Or, the “carpenter from Mosul” in his workshop which is somewhat bare “but full of humanity” in Amman, Jordan.

These are the stories which Don Mario Corniole shares with AsiaNews. He has been a fidei donum missionary since 2009 in the Holy Land at the service of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. He speaks of the refugee emergency, stressing “the drama of family men, anxious about their children’s future”: many of them “would have remained in their native lands” despite the Islamic state, but they left “thinking of future generations.”

Don Mario, 45, is the third and last son of a family from Sansepolcro, in Tuscany. He graduated as an Accountant in 1989 and a few years later, in 1994, discovered his vocation and decided to enter the seminary. April 6, 2002, he was ordained in the Cathedral of Fiesole, celebrating his first Mass the next day in Sansepolcro. He served for several years as a parish priest in Montevarchi (Arezzo), which he left in 2009 in response to a missionary desire which led him to Bethlehem in the Holy Land.

” I arrived a year ago in Jordan – says the priest – to help assist those who fled, in the summer of 2014, from Mosul and the Nineveh plain with the rise of the Islamic State. I had heard of their plight, but it was only seeing it with my own eyes that UI began to understand its true dimensions: see them sleep crammed in a room, with one bathroom, it was heartbreaking. With the emergency, the patriarchate asked me to help and I an determined to be of assistance”.

The priest calls the welcome people receive in Jordan “extraordinary”. According to UN sources, there are at least 635 thousand refugees in the country. According to Amman the figure is even higher: 1.4 million, about 20% of the population. Of these, about 130 thousand are Iraqis, in addition to 1.3 million Syrians, not to mention the unregistered refugees.

With the approval of the royal family, the Jordanian Church welcomed 10 thousand Iraqi Christians, mobilizing Caritas and parishes; none of these immigrant families has ever lived in refugee camps. Even today the emergency concerns “the rent of houses, the purchase of medicines, food”, in addition to trying to give them “a small job to save up a bit ‘of money”. “It is important – says Don Mario – that they can earn their daily bread with dignity, that are able to use the time because it is devastating to remain locked in the house for so long without doing anything. This inactivity is also a cause of serious psychological and emotional damage. ”

This has given rise to sewing courses for women, carpentry and bakery for men, small craft production with the sale of the artifacts. This responds to their immediate needs, even if “the hope of all of the refugees is that the wars will end, that people can return to their homes, that the world powers cease to pursue their own interests on the backs of the weak”. “They are people of extraordinary faith – says the missionary – because they lost all of their tangible goods, but they have been able to keep their faith alive. For me, for all that I do they are an inexhaustible source of personal enrichment and edification. ”

In this context, the Jubilee of Mercy, proclaimed by Pope Francis, “becomes our everyday bread, because it becomes the way to witness to the faith.” A mercy, adds, manifested “especially in the projects, in Jordan as well as in the Holy Land, in the places where I experienced mission, thanks to the contributions of benefactors and friends in Italy. Among the many a northern family, which allocated 10 thousand Euros for refugees, giving up their dream of building a new home “.

In addition to Iraqi refugees, Don Mario was in charge of shelters and charitable activities in Israel and Palestine where he was involved – and still is – as part of his mission. Over time he has created a “strong and special” bond with a “home” for physically handicapped children in Bethlehem (pictured). The center, he says, was born in 2005 thanks to the commitment of the Sisters of the Incarnate Word, and since the beginning of his mission “I have worked closely with them.” “We welcomed 26 children – he continues – and today the challenge, and commitment, is to create a new structure to provide different environments to males and females who, meanwhile, have grown up and now can no longer share the same room.”

The center is open to people with disabilities and also welcomes Muslim families, who see “the concrete witness of Christian charity in these works – hospitals, places of welcome, in educational institutions – and in the way they are managed.” “These acts of charity, of mercy and fundamental witness – he continues – are also and especially part of our task of proclaiming the word of Jesus. We cannot go up on the roofs of houses and shout the Gospel, but we can live our faith putting it into practice in everyday life, with these projects”.

Over time, these activities have also allowed the emergence of strong bonds between Christians and Muslims, especially in the Holy Land, particularly in Bethlehem and in some smaller towns of Palestine. “Through these projects works – says Fr. Mario – Muslims understand that we care about their lives, that we are not indifferent to their difficulties; if, on the one hand, it is difficult to preach, it becomes much easier to live the faith in” gestures. And over time this has given rise to “very beautiful relationships”, such as “among the nuns who run the center for the disabled and Muslim mothers. Women are the first to break down barriers, to build bridges, to create a climate of familiarity that is more difficult in men”.

Finally, he appeals to the Christians in Italy and in the West: “Come on pilgrimage to the Holy Land – concludes Don Mario – because it is the best way to keep alive the bond with this land and guarantee a future for the Christian presence in the region. You must bring this message of unity, closeness and solidarity by visiting not only the churches, basilicas, the holy places, but also meeting people, the ‘living stones’. In Bethlehem, it’s nice to see the face of the baby Jesus in the eyes of the Christians who have lived in this land for centuries. “–Asia News