11/11/2022, 12.24
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Fr. Rifat: freedom of mission and Jerusalem in meeting between Pope and King Abdullah

Yesterday saw "cordial talks" between Francis and the Hashemite monarch, the fifth meeting in less than 10 years. Their "shared concern" for the holy city and for the permanence of Christians in the Middle East region. The problem of post-pandemic poverty and unemployment and religious tourism to support the economy. 


Amman (AsiaNews) - Continuing on the path of interreligious dialogue, preserving the Christian presence in the Middle East and guaranteeing "freedom" for the Church's mission in the country, elements "underlined" in the Holy See's communiqué, but "absent" in the Amman statement.

These were the essential points of yesterday's face-to-face meeting at the Vatican between Pope Francis and Jordan's King Abdullah II, "the fifth" for the reigning pontiff, as Fr. Rifat Bader, director of the Catholic Centre for Studies and Media (Ccsm), stressed to AsiaNews.

This meeting, like the previous ones, focused on "Jerusalem and the holy places" continues the parish priest, whose situation is "a source of common concern for the pope and the monarch", who is traditionally "the protector" of the area for Muslims and Christians. "Even the Holy See," he adds, "has emphasised the role of the Hashemites".

The Jordanian-born priest, who was born in al-Wahadneh in 1971, notes how the Vatican has asserted the need to "do missionary work in full freedom", a fundamental aspect to "guarantee, strengthen and protect" the Christian presence.

Nearly 10 years have passed since the conference "The challenges of Arab Christians in the Middle East", held in Amman from 3 to 5 September 2013, and many events have led to a further exodus: the Islamic State (IS, formerly Isis) in Syria and Iraq, wars, and migrations that have caused "the loss of almost two million Christians in the Middle East".

Abdullah, Fr. Rifat continued, "also has this concern" and intends to work to "preserve their identity" in the region, because "protecting Christians also means protecting the entire Middle East at the same time". 

In the final statement at the conclusion of the "cordial talks", the Holy See reiterated the "need to continue to develop interreligious and ecumenical dialogue, always ensuring that the Catholic Church in Jordan can freely exercise its mission".

The note then referred to the "Palestinian issue and the issue of refugees", as well as guaranteeing the "need to continue to preserve the status quo in the Holy Places in Jerusalem, a place of encounter and a symbol of peaceful coexistence". The official Jordanian agency Petra emphasised the theme of coexistence and interreligious dialogue, together with the need to "unblock the peace process in the Middle East". This last point remains the "prerequisite for security and stability" also in Jerusalem, which is the "key" to "achieving peace in the region". 

Fr. Rifat notes that "there are only 6,000 Christians left in the holy city and this is a source of suffering. Even the pope and the king have shown concern. Their meeting, which follows the pontiff's trip to Bahrain, is a further push to strengthen relations, especially in the Arab and Gulf world with which a door has opened'.

Jordan, he continued, "remains a model for interreligious dialogue and ecumenism", but it needs aid and support to continue its work of welcoming the many refugees, including Christians, who have found shelter in the Hashemite kingdom.

"Even and especially today, when Jordan is experiencing a healing phase after having suffered greatly from the Covid-19 pandemic. However, many families,' the priest concludes, 'suffer from poverty and unemployment, many projects are waiting to be unblocked, and tourism must be supported, especially religious tourism, which is an essential contribution to the country's economy'. 

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