Vatican: Jordan, A Major Destination Of Christian Pilgrims

Amman, April 18 (Petra) - In its international relations, the Vatican views Jordan as a voice of moderation, advocate of the middle-ground approach and upholder of the values of co-existence and respect of other faiths.

Those tenets have gained the kingdom the merit of assuming a pivotal role in East-West rapprochement and understanding through adopting dialogue as the means to build bridges and ward off a clash of civilizations.

A staunch supporter of the Palestinian issue, Jordan has undertaken a vigorous role in Defence of holy Jerusalem and has been a caretaker of holy shrines in the city. The Vatican recognized that role and opened its firs embassy in Jordan in 1994, which was the crowning achievement in the long history of relations.

Spokesperson of the Catholic Church in Jordan, Refaat Bader, said diplomatic relations between Jordan and the Holy See dated back to the reign of His Majesty, the late King Abdullah I, founder of modern Jordan, who exchanged messages with Pope John Paul XII on shrines in Jerusalem.

Bader said Pope Paul VI’s 1964 first trip outside Italian borders was a solid foundation to promote ties and underscore the Vatican’s recognition of Jordan as a holy land, a model for Muslim-Christian co-existence and a key regional state.

“The visit opened the door for Muslim-Christian dialogue that reflected the extent of rapprochement and religious respect,” he said.

At that time, Bader said, the late His Majesty King Hussein declared that Jordan would pursue the noble task of protecting and defending Christian holy sites forever as a destination for Christian pilgrims from across the world.

He said the Vatican embassy provided spiritual and cultural services in addition to coordinating with Jordan on humanitarian issues in the region, mainly in occupied Jerusalem. That relationship, he noted, culminated in the Vatican’s appointment of Michel Sabbah, as the first Arab Latin patriarch of Jerusalem.

Bader said a 2000 trip to Jordan by Pope John Paul II, the first by a pontiff after diplomatic ties were established, had prompted Christians in the world to visit the kingdom as part of their journey of pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It also gave a boost to a Muslim-Christian dialogue based on mutual respect and cooperation to defend holy places.

Badr pointed to a 2006 initiative (Common Word), a quote from a verse in the Holy Quran, launched by His Royal Highness Prince Ghazi Bin Mohammad and signed by 138 Islamic scholars, which highlighted the importance of Muslim-Christian dialogue.

During his pilgrimage to Jordan next month, Pope Benedict XVI will meet Muslim leaders and call for improving interfaith dialogue.

“The pope will meet Islamic figures and deliver a speech to reaffirm inter-faith dialogue between Christians and Muslims,” said Badr.

The pontiff will visit Jordan on May 8-11 at the start of a trip that will also take him to Nazareth, the West Bank city of Bethlehem, where according to tradition, Jesus was born, and also go to occupied Jerusalem, Badr said.

During meetings with the Muslim leaders at Amman’s King Hussein Mosque, the pope “will stress religion as a key force to promote global peace and justice, particularly in the Middle East,” Badr said.

//Petra// O.N, S.S