The Deacon's Bench

When I read this, I thought: “This guy sounds more Muslim than Catholic.” And I mean that in a good way. How many Catholics are this devoted to the Liturgy of the Hours?

From the East Valley Tribune in Arizona:

Abraham Samandar was born and raised in Jerusalem, and he has read and reread the “old stories” from in and around his historic hometown.

“I have read the Bible more than 10 times,” he said.

A devout Roman Catholic, Samandar blends long hours of shopkeeping with adhering to strict traditional readings of the “Libro de las Horas” (Book of the Hours), which some observant Catholics read or recite at the canonical hours. Between customers at J&M Market in Mesa, he gathers up that tattered and mended book, along with his Bible. He dutifully reads the lengthy liturgies assigned for 9 a.m., noon and 3 p.m. ?When he has no customers in the store, and that can be an hour at a time, Samandar may chant the words in that day’s liturgy.

“Sometimes they are two hours, sometimes an hour, but no less than a half-hour,” he says of the readings.

Samandar may walk through the store aisles for exercise, or even around the parking lot in front of his shop, as he reads the Spanish texts.

He has owned the convenience store for nine years, but has no help. It means a 14-hour day — a long period away from his wife and six children ages 10 to 17. He says he calls the market “J&M” for two of his children, Joseph and Mary, solid biblical names. But, then, the previous owner also called it “J&M,” and that owner had told Samandar he, too, had named it for his children, Joseph and Mary.

The anemic economy shows in his business. There are a lot of one- or two-item shoppers, mostly getting cigarettes, lottery tickets, beer and snacks.

Some of regular customers don’t even reach the counter before Samandar has laid down the pack of cigarettes they came to buy. No one has to say a word. Money, change and receipts are exchanged, and the patron is gone. “I know what they want — they don’t ask me anymore,” he said.

Samandar left Jerusalem in 1975 and went first to St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, where he had family, then to Puerto Rico, where he lived for 23 years. He sold clothing house to house and became active in his Catholic parish, including serving as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, a layperson authorized to distribute the Eucharist.

He laments that he cannot carry on the same work in Arizona because of the demands of running his store. “It’s a different life here,” he said. “Over there (Puerto Rico), you can close your store on Sunday, or you can take two or three days, but over here, you can’t. It’s not like there.”

Once a week, Samandar has worked things out so that his wife of 21 years, Sawsan, comes from their Chandler home and watches the store, so he can attend Mass at St. Andrew the Apostle Catholic Church. After Mass, he’s back at the market.

The storekeeper had an uncle in Jerusalem who became a priest. “Once I thought about being a priest, but I can’t now because I am married,” he said. “I wished God gave me another job so I could …” Samandar’s voice trailed off. “Maybe he is preparing me for something. I don’t know.”

As he sells cigarettes, lottery tickets and armloads of 12-packs of beer, the shopkeeper winces. “What can I do? Sometimes, it’s hard for me. I see the people come in for it. I don’t like it, but what can I do? It is hard.”

But occasionally he helps out people who come into his market without means.

“Sometimes, they want a drink, and they don’t have money, and I give something,” he said. He helps children, too, but very judiciously “because, you know, now people take it in another way. So I have to be careful.”

Prayer sustains Samandar.

Read the rest for more on the history of the LOTH — and to learn more about Samandar’s remarkable practice.

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