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Jordanian Christians

Christian life flourishes in Jordan, despite challenges

by Anne Womer

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When Father Basheer Bader makes house calls, parishioners in the idyllic Jordanian village of Ader greet him as a family member. Village life tends to be sleepy, and lingering chats over copious cups of tea and plates of sweets nurture and strengthen relationships, tightening the bonds of community.

More than 50 miles away, in the bustling capital city of Amman, Suhair Naber finds it difficult to balance parish commitments with family responsibilities – Mrs. Naber lives a modern, suburban lifestyle all too familiar to most North Americans.

Although most locals picture Jordanian Christians as exclusively wealthy urbanites, Christians, who count up to 6 percent of Jordan’s 5.9 million residents, live throughout this kingdom’s cities, towns and villages. A diverse mix of communities in a country sandwiched between Israel/Palestine and Iraq, they play an integral part in the kingdom’s public and economic life.

“Christianity was born in our region and it is not confined to Western culture,” Jordan’s Prince Hassan bin Talal said on the occasion of the publication of the French edition of his book, Christianity in the Arab World.

“Our Christian brothers’ defense of Arab values and the causes of the Arab world in all international fora is a truthful expression of their affiliation to their Arab patrimony.”

Only a few elderly women and young girls attended Mass on a recent Friday at St. Joseph Latin (Roman Catholic) Church in Ader, one of a cluster of villages in the Jordanian Christian heartland near the town of Kerak. Father Basheer, pastor of St. Joseph’s, explained that most of his congregation had gone to the nearby Orthodox parish to attend a funeral liturgy.

“Here, human relations and blood ties are very strong,” Father Basheer said. “Villagers are all relatives.”

Ader is an oasis of golden wheat fields in the middle of Jordan’s rocky southern desert. Herds of goats and sheep dot the gently rolling landscape. Of the village’s 4,500 inhabitants, Christians number one third of the population. Only when pressed do they identify themselves in Arabic as either “Lateen” (Latin), “Katulik” (Greek Catholic) or “Ruum” (Orthodox). Ader’s Christian community is a close one; differences between Catholicism and Orthodoxy are secondary to family.

Most Christian villagers belong to Arab Christian tribes who gave up their semi-nomadic way of life in the late 19th century, settling with their herds near Kerak. According to tribal custom, these Bedouin Christians were among the first peoples to embrace Christianity after Jesus’ ascension.

The name of the village’s main Latin family, the Hijazine, points to the antiquity of their Christian faith. Originally from the Hijaz, an area near the Islamic holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, it is thought the family embraced the faith before the time of the Prophet Muhammad. (It is unthinkable that a tribe from the Islamic heartland could have converted from Islam to Christianity.)

Tribal custom still dominates village social order, sometimes to the exasperation of Father Basheer, who finds that primordial notions of “honor” often conflict with Christian teachings.

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Tags: Christianity Jordan Chaldean Church