Stories of coexistence between believers in Christ and Muslims. A trip to Jordan, to the school of the Don Orione Fathers which also welcomes Iraqi refugees and Syrians. Father Hani Polus Al Jameel and Professor Isam Shuli speak: “True religious people can show that it is possible to build good things together, working side by side.”

“Here, religion is not an element of division: students are connected by a rapport of friendship and respect. The Muslim boys know that this is a Catholic institution, and that they will find Christian companions. When they begin to attend classes they realize that there are no differences in how they are treated, and that each one receives the same attention that is given to others: in the end, they all see themselves simply as students of Saint Joseph.” These are the words of Professor Isam Shuli, 52 years old, a widower with six children: Muslim, and an Arabic teacher with thirty years of experience, he has taught for eight years at Saint Joseph School, the male vocational school founded by the Don Orione Fathers in 1984 on the outskirts of Zarqa, in Jordan. The city is located 40 kilometers north-east from the capital Amman: the inhabitants number about a million, 6% of which are of the Christian faith. Not far from the school is the Zaatari refugee camp, the largest and most populous of the country. 

The history of this school recounts the strategic and crucial role the institution plays in cultivating the social bond: a strong fraternal bond, capable of enduring, which is protected from the excesses of identity or the erosion to which it is especially exposed in our age. 

The features of the school  

Saint Joseph offers different fields of study (scientific, literary, computer, hotel, industrial, mechanical, technical and carpentry) and currently accommodates 650 boys aged 13 to 18 years: 550 are Muslim, the rest are Christian. “A beautiful peculiarity of our school is the presence of students from different countries who learn to grow together, respecting and loving each other: there are Jordanians, Jordanian-Palestinians, but also Iraqis and Syrians who fled from the war and from ISIS,” said the Orione Father Hani Polus Al Jameel, 37 years old, Iraqi, in charge of the Marian shrine of the Queen of Peace and a religion teacher at the school. 

The commitment of the teachers  

Professor Isam says he is happy to work at Saint Joseph, for several reasons: “I appreciate the orderly management of the school and the fact that the country of origin of the students does not carry any weight: no distinctions are made here, while in the Jordanian world these differences are often taken into account. Also, attention is given to all, even to the boys who are less skilled: in a system of competitive private schools such as the Jordanian system, we are pleased with good academic results, but our primary goal is to provide the same level of dedication to all students. We teachers share the purpose and philosophy of the school; the atmosphere between us is peaceful and our different religious affiliation allows us to recognize our respective values and strengths.” 

Father Hani echoes this sentiment, saying: “The Christian and Muslim teachers work together with a great spirit of collaboration and a single goal: the vocational and human training of the boys. Last year the Muslim religion teacher and I started a very interesting initiative: on some occasions we combined our classes, preparing a list of topics to be addressed from the Christian and Islamic point of view: the boys were thrilled, they vied for the chance to speak! It is an experience that we would like to repeat.” 

Peace is built  

Professor Isam believes that the school plays a decisive role in the construction of a peaceful and fruitful coexistence between people of different faiths and origins: “The welcome, the respect, and the spirit of collaboration do not arise spontaneously in people’s hearts: the boys learn what the educators transmit to them: peace is built, and peace is taught.” And Father Hani adds: “In our school, the boys learn a vocation by working with teachers, side by side: I think that the work is a key factor in the building of the social bond.” 

Both are convinced that true religious people, working together, can offer a significant testimony to the world: “They can offer their example, to show that it is possible to build good things together, to share goals and values in view of authentic human development. They can show that religion motivates a man to commit and to give the best of himself, which is not an element of division for the great human family, but, if properly understood, leads to living a good life.” 

The Syrian and Iraqi refugees  

Father Hani and his two confreres are also doing their utmost to assist refugees. They began to offer aid with what little they could give but, unable to help everyone as they wanted, they prepared a project in 2013 that was presented to various institutions. The Italian Episcopal Conference welcomed the initiative and thanks to the funds received, the Don Orione Fathers have been able to provide assistance to 14,000 refugees, mainly Syrians. Subsequently, with the NGO Manos Unidas, they started a second project to support 12,000 refugees, mostly Iraqis.  

“It was an enormous job,” said Father Hani. “Families who leave the Zaatari camp and settle in Zarqa need everything: we provide coupons for grocery shopping, mattresses, stoves, blankets and other goods that they may need, such as medicine. For many Syrian Muslims, we were the first Christians they met personally: more than once they said they were surprised by our concern and they confessed that they did not believe that Christians were like this. Now they respect us and love us; we are very pleased. We are currently looking for other organizations with which to continue this work because funds have just recently run out, and in our own strength we are not able to ensure the necessary assistance.”  

The exodus from the valley of Nineveh  

Father Hani knows well the sufferings, the privations, the anguish of the refugees and the plight of the Iraqi people in the Nineveh Plain, invaded by Isis militants in the summer of 2014. “The families of my eight brothers and my elderly parents (my father is 100 years old) were forced to leave Qaraqosh suddenly, at night, in the space of a few hours: together with thousands of people they set off for Kurdistan, some by car, some on foot. It was an immense exodus, a very hard experience. My family is still in Kurdistan; only a few have managed to emigrate. Iraqi refugees would like to return to their villages, but fear prevails – they are convinced that they will never be safe: this is why they seek, in every way, to reach other countries.” 

Source: La Stampa