On Sunday morning, after celebrating Mass in the Greek Melkite Catholic tradition, Fr Nabil Haddad, Founder and Executive Director of the Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Center, gave us a tour of the new center to be opened this week in Amman to promote interfaith understanding and peaceful living, especially among younger people.
Haddad is proud that Jordan is a model of coexistence between the majority Muslim population, and a small community of Christians that has been present, he says, since the first season of Pentecost. The new center will promote that ethos in the new generation growing up in Amman; a city whose population has grown from just 40,000 in 1946 to 4.4 million today.
At a briefing with the Mayor of Amman, we learned that the immigration of migrants and refugees from troubled countries surrounding the area has contributed to a population explosion in the country since its independence in 1948. The Mayor himself arrived in the country as a Palestinian refugee at the age of seven.
Both Mayor Akel Hiltaji and Fr Nabil credited the shared heritage of Arab people of all Abrahamic faiths for the way in which Jordanians of differing religions relate to one another. While the Mayor, answering a question from the group, hinted at the country’s military preparedness and constant vigilance against extremism, both men were adamant that the culture of coexistence which has been a feature of Jordanian society holds promise for the whole region of the Middle East, because of the brotherhood and sisterhood of the three monotheistic faiths born there. This family feeling is also the basis for Jordan’s generous policy towards refugees and migrants fleeing Iraq and Syria.
The Center that will open this week next to the Old Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul is dedicated to offering opportunities for a new generation to grow up with the same sense of cooperation, compassion, and religious and civic comradeship that Biltaji, a Muslim government official, and Haddad, a Christian priest, so clearly share.
As we left the church center, Haddad introduced us to Ahmed, a Muslim engineer working on completing the Center in time for Thursday’s inauguration. Ahmed wanted to greet us as Christian pilgrims and to let us know that he is proud to be working on a church project that will be of service to all of Amman’s people.
This week, a group of Christian writers and bloggers are traveling in Jordan, courtesy of the Jordan Tourism Board and Royal Jordanian Airlines. A group of seven Episcopalians in included in the cohort. On Saturday evening, we worshiped at the Church of the Redeemer, a parish of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem. On Sunday morning, a group visited Ss Peter and Paul Old Cathedral, a Greek Melkite Catholic church. Photography by Rosalind Hughes and Heidi Schott, Diocese of Maine (Mayor Akel Biltaji)