05/02/2024, 20.22
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Fr Bader: King Abdullah II with Pope Francis for peace in Gaza and the Middle East

The pontiff met with the Jordanian monarch today at the Vatican. The Holy See noted the "cordial" conversation and the two sides’ shared commitments. For the Jordanian priest, the bilateral relationship is well established with Jordan as a “model” of Christian-Muslim relations. Both are concerned about the escalation in the region, while stressing the importance of tourism, especially “religious tourism”.

Amman (AsiaNews) – Today's meeting between Pope Francis and King Abdullah II shows the great importance of collaboration between the Holy See and the Kingdom of Jordan to build a global commitment for a “ceasefire in Gaza,” this according to Fr Rifat Bader, director of the Catholic Center for Studies and Media (CCSM) and editor-in-chief of abounga.org.

As one of the most authoritative voices of the Church in Jordan, the clergyman spoke to AsiaNews in the year that marks “the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations" between the two states.

The Holy See stressed the importance of the “cordial” private talk between the two leaders, which lasted 20 minutes. The two, who have known each other for a long while, took part in the traditional exchange of gifts.

Vatican-Jordan ties go back a long way, “well before official relations", explains the priest, since Jordan is "the first land to have welcomed" a pontiff "on an official visit" with the arrival in 1964 of Paul VI, before he travelled to Jerusalem and Bethlehem on pilgrimage.

Jordan, he continues, "is part of the Holy Land" and is "respected by the Holy See for its role in interfaith dialogue, for the relations that have been created between Christians and Muslims" that have made it "a model."

Over time, Jordan has undertaken many initiatives, such as the proposal to the UN for the Week of Harmony between Religions, which was held in February, Fr Bader noted. The Vatican itself "looks carefully at Jordan" to contribute to regional peace.

Today's meeting comes just over a month after the Vatican’s “Foreign Minister,” Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States and International Organisations, visited the kingdom, which he described as a land of "peace and stability".

"The country has not entered into wars, and has not been stained with blood", the Jordanian clergyman said; instead, it has “welcomed refugees from Palestine, Iraq and Syria".

The pontiff also "mentioned and cited several times" Jordan as an example "of welcoming, together with Lebanon" and today's meeting "is very important precisely in light of ongoing wars in the Middle East.”

Fr Bader insisted that one of the priorities that unite the Jordan and the Holy See is to "get humanitarian aid to the needy in Gaza", as well as “the urgency of achieving the release of the hostages" still in the hands of Hamas.

Having addressed these two points in the immediate future, “it is necessary then to look to the future, not only to find a solution to the conflict in the Strip but to give a global response to the Palestinian problem.”

On this matter, he says, “there is a common vision of peace and two states (Israel and Palestine), because both Amman and the Vatican encourage this solution," while parting ways somewhat over Jerusalem,” whose eastern part would be the capital of the future Palestinian state for Jordan, while the Holy See is pressing for a special status.

The conflict in Gaza, the Iranian attack on Israel, and the response of the Jewish state, the assaults of pro-Tehran Houthi militias in the Red Sea and the conflict between Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the Israeli military contribute to raising tensions.

In particular, the Iranian attack and the Israeli response have raised more than one concern.

"For us civilians,” Fr Bader said, “it was a difficult time because we are not used to hearing the sounds of military vehicles, of war, but, on this occasion, Jordan showed that it is a stable and independent nation, that it does not want to contribute to a destructive war, but to remain an actor of peace because a strong and stable Jordan is the best way to help the Palestinians."

However, the danger of escalation "is always present," because "there are many actors ready to come into play and the risk of enlargement is real, but this is not Jordan's desire, nor that of the Holy See."

Moreover, “we must not forget the Christian community in Gaza, a minority that shows patience, faith, and courage; they too have contributed by providing martyrs for Palestine.”

On the topic of dialogue, King Abdullah II himself "encourages brotherhood between Christians and Muslims. This year we celebrate a quarter of a century since his accession to the throne and in this time, he has met three popes, Saint John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and the current, Pope Francis. Once the youngest Arab monarch, he is now the doyen among Mideast leaders.”

On the home front, Fr Bader sees some critical issues that need to be addressed, starting with “poverty; there are many poor people, as well as the unemployed, even if the government is committed to improving the situation.”

The country, he explains, depends “on tourism, especially religious tourism, which guarantees work, even for young people. However, the number of visitors has dropped in the last period and we must count on the aid of the Holy See to develop religious tourism.”

The focus is on 2030, when Amman will celebrate the 2,000th anniversary of Jesus' baptism in the Jordan. To this end, “We are preparing to welcome thousands of tourists and the presence of a resident nuncio[*] will help achieve the goal,” he said.

(Photo: Vatican media)

[*] The current nuncio, Archbishop Giovanni Pietro Dal Toso, was appointed in January 2023; he celebrated his first Mass in Petra.

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