The Jesuit Center in Amman, Jordan, is the heart of a small but growing Jesuit presence in the city
and the country. It is here that Fr. Clarence Burby, an Iraqi Jesuit, conducts retreats for young
adults; where Fr. Kevin O'Connell, a Jesuit from New England, serves as pastor at a church for
English-speaking Catholics, including personnel from the Irish embassy and maids from the
Philippines (see box story to the right); where Fr. Thomas Fitzpatrick, another New England Jesuit,
does spiritual direction and supports diocesan work.
At the heart of the Jesuit Center are two lay people, Emile El-Deek, a former parochial school
teacher, and Jack Hijazeen, a former seminarian with a strong interest in youth ministry. They
both began their journey of lay collaboration with the Jesuits in 1989, shortly after Fr. Fitzpatrick
arrived in Jordan to start work as the center's director. Since then, the center has grown into an
integral part of the local church, the result, in many respects, of Emile's and Jack's efforts. This in
itself is an extraordinary witness in a local Christian community in which lay people do not
normally take on prominent roles of responsibility and leadership in the life of the Church.
But the road was not an easy one for either Emile or Jack. Both spent about two years going
through a spiritual, theological, and personal formation process. Jack, who'd team up with Fr.
Burby to offer three-day retreats for youth, is working on an MA in religious education at Boston
College, which he expects to finish next year. This will help him in continuing his work in youth
ministry once back in Amman.
Jack Hijazeen, whose family are Christian Bedouins, works in youth ministry at the Jesuit Center
in Amman. He is currently at Boston College, working on an MA in religious education.
Jack comes to Boston from a very different world, one where Christians make up a small
percentage of the population. He's already tried to help shape the attitudes of the young Christians
with whom he works who are living in a predominantly Muslim society.
"Christians like to think of themselves as a minority," he explains; "but what I say to them is that
we are Arabs. In fact there were Christian Arabs here before there were Muslims, and we should
not feel like a weak minority. For a long time the Christians were trying to hide, trying not to
make any noise to disturb the big majority. That affected us in a very negative way. We are not
just a small minority; we are part of this society, part of this country."
Jordan and Boston are different, but young Christians face many of the same issues everywhere,
issues of adjusting to the speed of change in society, issues of the conflict that the modern world
They are trying to fit into this world, fit into the culture, and the challenge for them is to get some
kind of balance between the world we are living in and the teachings of Jesus. Sometimes it is
difficult for them."
Jack already has a lot of experience confronting these issues; with his new learning and new
experience, not to mention his professional credentials from Boston College, he hopes he can help
the young Christians of Jordan even more.
Emile El-Deek, a layman on staff at the Jesuit Center in Amman, Jordan, commits himself through
his studies and works to spreading the influence of the center's ministries.
Emile made that same journey to Boston College for an MA in religious education, which he
received almost two years ago. He is now actively involved in the formation of teachers of
religious education at local Christian schools, conducting workshops for parochial-school teachers
of a variety of rites, including Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic, Roman Catholic, Armenian,
Orthodox Chaldean, and Catholic Chaldean among them. He travels extensively around Jordan
with an assortment of programs designed not only to offer teachers more-effective methods of
conveying the tradition of faith to students but also to help them deepen their own faith in ways
appropriate to the realities of Christian Arabs living in a largely Islamic and increasingly modern
"The teachers have a lot of experience," Emile explains, "but they need to reflect upon it. They
don't have the time or they don't give themselves the time." Thus Emile has organized meetings to
give them the opportunity to do just that, "to think about their experience."
This reflection allows the teachers to become what he calls "critical thinkers," to move from being
teachers to being educators. If they do not make this move, he believes, "the teachers will not
improve themselves and they cannot improve their students."
One of Emile's major goals is to introduce methods of education that emphasize the experiences
and active response of students. "I found that most important is how they can teach in dialogue.
What is happening now is one way of teaching. My aim is to help teachers learn to teach in
dialogue with the student and to be not just someone who talks about things."
In the context of Jordan, this is something new, so Emile designs his workshops to introduce the
teachers to this experience.
"Once I had a workshop of 60 teachers, and my topic was the aims of education. So I told them,
'I have three or four questions. If you don't cooperate and answer the questions I won't give you
anything. If you cooperate and you talk, then I will succeed and we will succeed. If you don't
speak I won't succeed because I don't prepare.'
"Of course I did prepare the ideas that I wanted to raise. But I wanted to encourage them and let
them know that they are important in dialogue that they are important in sharing. And so the
meeting was a success, and that was the first time that I had dialogue with 60 people."
A new style of teaching is important for helping the students develop a deeper spiritual life. But
more is needed, for to reach the goal of transforming students, transforming the religion teachers
is crucial. Emile offers an example: "If the teacher's aim is to convert the students to become
Christians--they are Christian in name, but I mean Christian at heart--if the teacher is really to
move them, then the teacher has to know what conversion means; the teachers have to go through
the process of converting themselves."
And simply on pragmatic grounds, he says, "the teacher should have some background in
spirituality--in theology, of course, but first in spirituality. The teachers themselves should also go
through the process of conversion and become really Christian so that while they are teaching
they can know from the students' questions what stage they are at--not as a spiritual director but
as a teacher--and can help the students better."
Thus he sees his teacher training as including spirituality, theology, and Scripture. He calls this his
work "for the long run." And he knows that it will take time. But he has time, and he also knows
that his work is taking on an increased significance as a result of a recent law that allows for
religious education of Christians attending government schools--a major breakthrough!
layman forming religious educators and teaching as a local theological expert, Emile has offered
an example to local Christians of a potential vitality for the Jordanian Church in the future. As a
Greek Orthodox, he brings an additional gift to the life and work of the Jesuit Center. His work
with the Jesuits and his familiarity and comfort with both Ignatian spirituality and Catholic
tradition make for a valuable witness to a local Christianity often divided by confessional lines. He
wrote his MA thesis on the use of icons in religious education, a method he sees as both wholly
Orthodox and wholly Ignatian. In addition to the work of forming teachers, Emile uses a slide
presentation at the center and local parishes as well to teach theology as it is represented in icons
and to invite people into the experience of prayer that the icon can offer.
The need for Jesuits in
places like Jordan and now Iraq, where the New England Province has missioned its first man in
nearly 30 years for work in a Chaldean seminary in Baghdad, is undeniable. With the high esteem
people in the Middle East hold for the spiritual life, religious vocations are not lacking but need
fostering. Next to that, a new course has been set with the work of Emile El-Deek and Jack
Hijazeen. Lay collaboration will form an integral, even central, part of the Jesuit presence in the