Director of the Catholic Center for Studies and Media - Jordan
1.What agencies and organizations are assisting the new Syrian refugees, and are they able to integrate in Jordan? Are some of these refugees Christian people, and do they come to your churches in Jordan?
This is not the first time that Jordan receives with open arms brotherly refugees who were adversely affected by wars and conflicts. We all know the tragedy of Palestine, which forced the fleeing of thousands of people who sought refuge in Jordan in 1948 and 1967. In 1991, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees began streaming into Jordan. The Palestinian brethren were privileged to enjoy full citizenship while the Iraqis still await the earliest opportunity to move to other countries of the world or return to their mother homeland.
Today, we are facing a stark humanitarian tragedy--it is the Syrian issue. We never expected to witness all these kinds of tragedies, massacres and deportations to occur in this Arab country. Jordan also received with open arms nearly a million refugees, and the new arrivals from Syria are staying in three camps while a large number are also staying in cities and villages of Jordan.
Facing a tragedy of this magnitude, it was incumbent to pool the efforts of the Church as well as those of international and national institutions including the United Nations and the Caritas Jordan Association (CJA). I hereby pay tribute to the role played by the CJA which has been operational in Jordan for forty-five years. It was established to help the Palestinian refugees in 1967, later carried out a great effort with the Iraqis and today its efforts are culminated with supporting Syrians. The CJA does not limit its services for Christians, but for humans in general--for Muslims as is the case for Christians—all humankind whether believers or not. The CJA message is to convey God's love to humans regardless of race, religion, gender, or nationality.
2. Jordan has already absorbed Palestinian and Iraq refugees. Has all of this movement of people changed the character of Jordan, or put stress on the country? Have they also enriched the church in Jordan in some social ways?
Undoubtedly, Jordan bears the brunt of economic burden. With Jordan opening arms, doors and heart, it incurs heavy burdens and costs. Starting with the security issue, Jordan receives brothers and friends from all parts of the world, bearing in mind the view that not all those who come have good intentions. Thus, the security concern constitutes the greatest burden followed next by the economic burden which includes providing food, potable water and shelter. I am really concerned in particular about the problem of water. This is a major problems facing the Middle East in general and Jordan in particular. Whenever the number of arrivals in Jordan increases, the water problem becomes more serious. Another emerging problem is health services that constitute as well a humanitarian need.
As for the stand of the Church, new churches were established that we never had before such as Chaldean Church and Syriac Church. We also have Maronite and Coptic churches, in addition to the already existing churches. This reflects the mosaic of churches, which in no way constitutes a weakness but rather enrichment. My thinking is directed in particular towards the Iraqi brothers known for their sublime piety. They have given to the church in Jordan new energies represented in chanting psalms, piety and dependence on God Who guides the universe. The Church in Jordan is strong today with the rich diversity of its institutions, history , cultures and nationalities—it is a blessing.
Any other observations? How can the international Christian & Catholic community help ease the situation there etc?
The Catholic world is undoubtedly on the move, in a particular and primary way, through prayer and the call of His Holiness Pope Francis to silence the voices calling for war and destruction. A few days ago, I wrote an article in Jordan's Al Rai daily titled, "Thank you Pope," which is a review of an article I wrote in September 2001 in which I said "Thank you Pope John Paul II because you are calling for no wars amid voices calling for war and revenge in the wake of September 11 events in that same year. Today the whole world says thanks to Pope Francis who organises the largest campaign opposed to a new war where there will neither be a winner nor a loser, for everyone will be a loser".
In addition to these calls opposed to violence, Catholic institutions in the world express solidarity by distributing aid through Caritas, or directly to camps and refugees staying in monasteries, churches and schools. We do not know specifically what is in the offing, as we are faced with various scenarios some of which expose pessimism indicating that matters will be further complicated. Other scenarios express optimism which reveals in the horizon political solutions through dialogue, and this is what we wish of course, because the impact of events will be reflected on all, including Christians, who are suffering today in some countries, new waves of persecution.
some basic Holy Land-Jordan questions:
A. Per the Jordanian Holy Places, for example, we see an example of a mostly Muslim country working to preserve & promote the Xtian & Judeo-Xtian holy sites. Are the sites protected and supervised by the Church and can you say a word or two about those particular dynamics in Jordan?
A few days ago (September 3-4, 2013), King Abdullah II called for convening a special conference which lasted for two days to discuss "the challenges facing Arab Christians in light of the prevailing conditions." There was neither a final statement nor recommendations, because the largest concern was to LISTEN to the pain and hopes of Christians coming from the Middle East as well as their friends coming from friendly countries, including the United States. The initiative reflects the courage of the king who wanted to highlight the situation of Christians in the East and the new sufferings they incur nowadays. The King said in his speech that "the protection of the historical Christian Arab identity is a duty rather than a favour". As we know this was not the first initiative of its kind in Jordan. The history of this country abounds with three papal visits, namely Paul VI 1964, John Paul II 2000, and Benedict XVI 2009.
In addition to the many initiatives of inter-religious dialogue, especially between Muslims and Christians, Jordan has a message of coexistence and harmony between the followers of religions whereby it initiated a few years ago to launch a week of harmony among religions—an idea adopted by the United Nations and later became recognized globally in the first week of February every year.
The holy places in Jordan are numerous and highly important such as the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized, Mount Nebo whioch commemorates Moses, Mkawer where John the Baptist was decapitated and Mar Elias (Birth Place of Prophet Elija)… as well other sites which witness the extraordinary Christian history in this country.
Jordan, through its public and private institutions, works assiduously to develop its tourist – and pilgrimage - services. We have not yet reached the stage of excellence which necessitates that we need to learn from the expertise of others. But as Christians are concerned, there are annual pilgrimages to some areas among which is the Baptism Site, where several churches were built, the largest of which belongs to the Roman Catholic Church. All these churches contribute to providing spiritual service in the first place and humanitarian services to the pilgrims coming from different parts of the world.
Here, I say: Come and see, Jordan is a holy land on which Lord Jesus and the apostles walked, where many early Christians were martyred. But a visit to the Holy Land does not mean only visiting stones and archeological sites, but also meeting the living stones, namely the community of believers.
B. Can you say a word or two about the importance overall of Jordan's Holy Places & territory to the overall Holy Land experience for visitors? I assume Israel receives more tourists.
It is not important to compare this region with others , but with no doubt Jordan has entered the global tourism map in its capacity as a Holy Land. People's eyes continued to be aimed towards the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem. But Jordan is also sacred in its soil, water and man. I said previously that we need to learn the art of tourist reception and provide convenience for tourists or pilgrims.
We look forward to the Catholic world to support religious tourism in Jordan as next year, 2014, we will mark the 50th anniversary of the visit of Pope Paul VI, which was the first visit by a Pope outside the walls of Italy. This is an honor for Jordan and we need to develop this message and historical responsibility.
C. Anything else you might point out of interest that pertains to Jordan's Holy Land? Maybe about the Jordanian Holy Land Christians: what makes a Jordanian Christian unique?
When we say "Jordanian Christian", it means a lot, because we go back through this label to the deep roots of history. We go back to the era of Lord Jesus Christ, and the preceding civilizations as well as the successive ones. They are civilizations that expired and history remained a key witness. But the Christian Jordanian does not live in the past, rather in the present as well. He is a citizen in this country who seeks to deepen the concept of "citizenship" for himself and for his Christian brothers as well as for those with whom there are historical relations and civilized partnership. Furthermore, a citizen of Jordan has no other choice but to be committed to the issues of his country, offer services to the community, and contribute to its enrichment with science, ethics and daily efforts in the political, economic, the media and other fields. Suffice it to hear that Christians in Jordan, who make up 3 per cent of the population only, oversee approximately 35 per cent of the national economy. This is an honor and responsibility, we have to keep this patrimony.
D. And finally a word about yourself and your journalism work, your website, your Catholic media organization in Jordan:
I am Father Rif'at Bader, a priest of the Latin Patriarchate (whose spiritual mandate extends over Palestine, Jordan and Cyprus).
Since I was ordained priest in 1995, I expressed interest in media through writing to various media outlets, namely church magazines or daily newspapers. The first area is easy because the priestly upbringing taught us to use the ecclesial, theological and spiritual terminology. But the second area was the hardest, which is writing in the daily press, namely political journalism. What does a Christian Arab cleric in the official press? And what terms he has to use to be acceptable and understood . I thank the Lord for this blessing. I currently write a weekly article in addition to several interviews or articles published on weekly or daily bases in Arab and foreign news agencies. What I write about is the contribution of Christians in these days in building the civilization of love , which is dialogue and fraternity with all the human beings, in this I focus on the contribution that Arab Christians are going to their societies in different fields , and our commitment as religious leaders of today to promote interreligious dialogue and harmony among the believers.
Ten years ago, I launched (www.abouna.org ) website, and I was then a parish priest in a village called Smakieh (in the desert of southern Jordan).
Today the site, whose slogan is: "Media for Humanity" has become one of the most important sources of Christian Arab news. Efforts are currently under way to launch the English-language edition of the site. The Catholic Center for Studies and Media was officially established last year in a national and religious ceremony. It is currently a local, Arab and international reference that seeks to disseminate sound information. Besides the website abouna.org , we have also in the center the office of Noursat satellite TV which is the only catholic TV that podcasts’ in Arabic, it issues from Beirut – Lebanon , and we have the first office outside Lebanon .
My experience was honed through acting as a media spokesperson for the local churches during two important visits, namely John Paul II 2000 and Benedict XVI 2009. I still follow the friendships and partnerships that were established following the two visits, and there is a consideration to conclude partnership agreements with several global media centers - especially with catholic centers in all the world.