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Jordan’s Christians throw weight behind King’s pro-Jerusalem push

A day after church leaders’ Baptism Site meeting, Christian figures reiterate support for Hashemites’ role in defending Christian existence, holy sites

By Mahmoud Al Abed , Mohammad Ghazal , Rula Samain - Dec 19,2017 - Last updated at Dec 19,2017

Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III greets an unidentified Muslim Cleric as Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa looks on, at the start of an event attended by His King Abdullah, at the Baptism Site Convention Centre, Dead Sea, Jordan, on Sunday (Reuters photo)

AMMAN — Christian religious and non-clergy figures on Monday hailed and reaffirmed the messages of church leaders conveyed during a meeting attended by His Majesty King Abdullah at the Baptism Site a day earlier.

They confirmed that the Christians of Jordan and Palestine, look at the King, the Custodian of Muslim and Christian holy places in Jerusalem, as the protector of these shrines and the rights of Christians in the occupied city and the guarantor of an “unbreakable unity” between Muslims and Christians. 

His Majesty on Sunday met with Christian religious leaders and figures from Jordan and Jerusalem on the occasions of Christmas and the New Year at the Baptism Site (Bethany beyond the Jordan). 

The meeting, according to a Royal Court statement, also symbolised solidarity with Jerusalem and Jerusalemites — Muslims and Christians — after the churches of the holy city, Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Jordan decided to turn their seasonal celebrations into an expression of solidarity with Jerusalem, in rejection of the United States’ decision to recognise the city as Israel’s capital.

Three church leaders: Theophilos III, Patriarch of the Holy City and all Jordan and Palestine; Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa; and Lutheran Church Bishop of Jerusalem and Jordan Bishop Munib Yunan spoke at the ceremony, in addition to Director General of Jerusalem Awqaf Department Sheikh Azzam Al Khatib and Dima Karadsheh, a member of the World Council of Churches. 

The event came amid a campaign led by Jordan to isolate and neutralise any effect of US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and make arrangements to move the US embassy to the occupied city.  

Speakers stressed their firm stands in support of Jordan’s positions, role and efforts to defend the holy city and safeguard its status quo in the face of unilateral decisions to alter the character of the city. 

Christian religious figures in Jordan echoed the same messages. 

Rev. David Rihani, the President of the Assembly of God Church in Jordan and Vice President of the Evangelical Council and their official spokesman, said that the Sunday event “was a great moment in support for Jerusalem and it was a real declaration that we are with Jerusalem and we call on the world to listen and follow His Majesty’s advice to use reason [and acknowledge] that Jerusalem belongs to all of us...  We are very thankful for His Majesty’s leadership and vision and we are all with him as Muslims and Christians”.

Rev. Samer Azar, Pastor of the Lutheran Church in Amman and Synod President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, said the meeting carried the clear Royal message of the everlasting role of the protection and custodianship of the Christian holy sites in Jordan and Jerusalem, and the King’s determination to continue preserving the historic presence of Christians in the Middle East”.

As for the representatives of the Christians and Muslims in Jerusalem who spoke on the occasion, Azar said they reaffirmed in their speeches support for the Hashemites’ “historic and legal custodianship of the Christian and the Muslim holy sites alike, which dates back to 1924.... They renewed their trust in his wise leadership and his great role”. 

Rev. Yousef Hashweh, President of the C&MA Church in Jordan & Holy Land, highlighted the timing of Sunday’s meeting, which was held while the nation is going through a “critical juncture in the history of the holy land”.

In his remarks to The Jordan Times, Osama Madanat, member of the Common Synod of the Orthodox Church in Jerusalem, focussed on the strong ties between Muslim and Christian components and the role of the Hashemite dynasty in maintaining such a relationship.

“I can firmly assert that Jordan has historically embodied the Islamic-Christian fraternity and that the Hashemite King Abdullah is not only the protector of the Islamic and Christian holy sites... but also the sponsor of interfaith dialogue at regional and international levels,” Madanat said.

“His Majesty the King and his father, His Majesty the late King Hussein, have given great attention to the issue of Jerusalem and holy sites, and have skilfully managed to place it on top of the global agenda...  None can handle such a case better and none can better defend Jerusalem than His Majesty,” Madanat said.  

Other non-clergy Jordanian Christians saw the event at the Baptism Site in the same light. 

The King’s meeting with Christian religious leaders from all congregations “sends one clear message to the entire world that Jordan is not only the custodian of the Islamic sites in Jerusalem but also the Christian sites”, Deputy Nabil Ghishan (Madaba) told The Jordan Times.

“All Christian leaders at this meeting stressed Jordan’s historic role in preserving and safeguarding the Christian holy sites in Jerusalem,” the lawmaker said.

The Christian leaders’ meeting with the King was also a clear response to US Vice President Mike Pence who said he was planning a Mideast trip to “help combat the persecution of Christians in the Middle East”.

“Our message to Pence is that we do not need his support… We do not trust Trump but trust the US… Our response is that we as Christians are with the Hashemites, whose role in safeguarding the Christian holy sites is historic. We do not want Pence’s help,” the lawmaker added.

In 1924, all Christian religious leaders supported Jordan’s role as custodian of the Christian holy sites after the Ottoman empire came to an end, he noted. 

“We, as Arab Christians, are with the King and his role and this is our message to the world and we stand by the Muslims in the defence of Jerusalem and the rejection of Trump’s reckless decision,” said Ghishan.

Veteran journalist Saad Hattar emphasised the symbolism in the gathering. 

“Both the event and the location are very symbolic. It’s the norm that His Majesty meets during festive times with Christian religious and non-religious figures, but yesterday’s [meeting] emphasised to the world the Jordanian unity, putting emphasis on the fact that the Hashemite family is, as it always has been, the carrier of the banner of Islam and the custodian of the holy sites, both Muslim and Christian, especially after the Trump announcement,” Hattar said.

A Palestinian joined Jordanian Christians in affirming the same message. 

A mother from Beit Sahur, speaking to The Jordan Times over the Internet, said that her people are proud of what King Abdullah has been doing to defend the Palestinian rights and that he is “very serious and very devoted to this cause”.

“It is a well-known fact amongst Christians here that all are proud of His Majesty and the Hashemite family for their continuous support of the Palestinian cause from the beginning and their fight to preserve Christian existence in Jordan and Palestine,” she said.

 

On the more recent tension over Jerusalem’s decision, the Christian Palestinian, who preferred anonymity, said the holy city would continue to be a place of worship and pilgrimage to both Muslims and Christians alike.

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Comments

Is it not from the basic human etiquette when introducing one side of the picture, as you have told us about the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III, that you similarly introduce the Muslim Scholar who is shaking hands with. It is clear that he is a Scholar, and it would be very easy to attain the information as to who the Scholar is and introduce his name under the caption, instead of simply saying "unidentified". It these "simple" mistakes that often lead to divisions between communities and people because it shows double standards. Your saying "unindentified" is not acceptable, you are a respected newspaper and have the means to find out who the person is.

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