Jordanian-Holy See relations a model of collaboration, says priest

AMMAN, Jordan (CNS) — When Pope Benedict XVI greeted Jordanian King Abdullah II and Queen Rania May 8, he was meeting descendants of the prophet Mohammed.

Jordan is sometimes referred to as the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. A Hashemite is a member of an Arabian princely family descended from Mohammed. King Abdullah’s official Web site lists him as a 43rd-generation direct descendant of Mohammed.

Although Catholics are a small minority in Jordan, Father Rif’at Bader, spokesman for the country’s Catholic Church, said “relations between Jordan and the Vatican are considered a model.” He said Jordan and the Vatican collaborate “for the dignity of human beings and the collaboration for peace, especially since Jerusalem is a concern for both sides, for Jordan and the Holy See.”

Father Bader, the author of “Hospitality and Openness,” a book about diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Jordan, said that all the lands for churches in the country are given as gifts from the royal family and from the government of Jordan.

Christians in Jordan have legal rights “to give them assurance and let them feel happy and relaxed,” said Farouq Jarar, acting director of the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought in Amman.

Although the Christian population of Jordan is about 6 percent, “by law, we reserve for them (Christians) nine parliamentary seats out of 110,” Jarar said. Christians are also represented in the Senate and Cabinet, he said.

“We never felt they are different. That’s the most important thing: socially, culturally, we are one and the same (Muslims and Christians),” Jarar said.

“The basic pillars of Jordan’s policy in general, not only in the political field … are moderation, tolerance and respect of the others. Everywhere His Majesty (King Abdullah II) goes, he repeats that,” Jarar said.

The Common Word initiative, which has become one of the leading projects for interfaith dialogue between Christians and Muslims, had its beginnings in Jordan. Launched in 2007 as an open letter signed by 138 leading Muslim scholars and intellectuals, the document was authored by Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal, who was commissioned to write it by King Abdullah.

The letter was addressed to the leaders of Christian churches and denominations throughout the world, including Pope Benedict.