On the Road: Meet the Christians of Jordan

At the parish of Irbid, in northern Jordan ©MAB/CTS

Who are they and what do they dream of, those Arab Christians who live on the other side of the Jordan? Terre Sainte Magazine went on the road to meet them.  It recounts a five-step journey through northern Jordan, where each of five cities becomes an opportunity to address community challenges that are different from those of Israel and Palestine.

Cécile Lemoine
September 8, 2022

Amman, the capital of Jordan, with its thousands of immaculate buildings and its backdrop of uneven mountains, sprawls and buzzes with activity. The first step in a journey that will include five cities, Amman is the perfect way to familiarize oneself with the Christian presence on the other side of the Jordan River. About 4 million people live there which is nearly half of Jordan's population.

Jordan, a country with a Sunni majority, also has a Christian population of nearly 3%, or between 170,000 and 180,000 people. "Half of them are established in Amman," says Bishop Jamal Daibes, the new Bishop of Jordan who resides in in the Patriarchal Vicariate’s premises in Swaifyeh, a stone's throw from Amman's Old City.

The Vicariate is the second lung of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and this portion of the Patriarchate’s diocese which is located in Jordan contains 33 parishes. The Patriarchate also manages 25 schools and 35 kindergartens throughout the country. Although they are a minority, Christians are full citizens of the Hashemite Kingdom; and although Islam is the official religion, Christians are well integrated into the economic, social and political fabric.

Jordan has 32 Latin parishes, as opposed to 14 in Israel and 14 in Palestine ©Cécile Lemoine/TSM

As a result, 9 of the 130 seats in the Chamber of Deputies are reserved for Christians, which is a larger portion than their percentage in society. They also hold positions of responsibility in the government and the military, and they are influential in the country's financial sector. Many live in the wealthy districts of the capital.

And yet, Amman is not representative of all of Jordan. Even less so when it comes to the lives of Christians. To understand their reality, we must get out of this huge urban center, go to the peripheries, and settle into the villages. This is precisely where the second stage takes us -- further south, to the edge of the desert and the Road of the Kings, to the city of mosaics, Madaba.

The legacy of the first Christians

The city, famous for its mosaic map showing the holy places venerated across the Holy Land in the sixth century, is home to 15,000 Christians, from all rites combined, out of a total population of 85,000 inhabitants. Its history is intimately linked to first centuries Christians, who expanded the place called "Medaba" in the Bible. At first Moabite then Ammonite, Nabataean and finally Roman, Medaba had, in the Byzantine era, no fewer than fourteen churches, before it was destroyed by the great earthquake of 746, at which time its inhabitants left.

The city of Madaba seen from the bell tower of the Latin ©church MAB/CTS

Father Firas Nasrawin, parish priest for the last two years says, in impeccable French, that "It was not until the nineteenth century that it came back to life again. At that time, Christian tribes left the city of Karak, further south, to escape Muslim persecution. Together with an Italian parish priest, they founded the Latin parish in 1880."

"Jordan's Christianity is an expression of that first century," says Ayman Kildany, a true blooded Madabian, former Secretary General of the Jordanian Bureau of Schools and Catechetics, then tourist guide, and now retired and a volunteer at the parish. “During the Byzantine period, almost the entire Jordanian population was Christian." [...]

This is taken from an article dedicated to Christians in Jordan. See it in full in issue 681 of Terre Sainte Magazine (September-October 2022)


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