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

According to St. John’s Gospel, Jesus began his public ministry in Bethany Beyond the Jordan — today, part of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan — where his cousin John preached about the coming of the Messiah.

Soon after the ascension of Jesus, Christianity spread throughout the Holy Land from the holy city of Jerusalem. According to the church historian Eusebius, the city’s Christians, including the apostles, fled across the Jordan River to the city of Pella to escape the Jewish revolt against the Romans. There, they planted the seeds of the Christian faith that would soon reach other cities of the Decapolis.

Not long after Emperor Constantine the Great adopted the Christian faith, the cities of Madaba, Petra and Philadelphia (the latter now the Jordanian capital of Amman) became important Christian centers in the Holy Land. Patrons sponsored the building of churches and embellished them with elaborate mosaic 
floors and other rich appointments. Bishops participated in the important ecumenical councils of the church. And thousands of men and women filled monastic centers or sought private refuge in the wilderness, eager to await the second coming in constant prayer.

Even as Arab Muslims conquered the Holy Land in the seventh century, Christianity continued to thrive. Well into the Umayyad Caliphate (seventh through tenth centuries A.D.), churches were built and decorated lavishly, monasteries and hermitages were established and Christian holy sites continued to host pilgrims. The Holy Land, with Jerusalem at its heart, continued to function as the center of the Christian world.

Demographics. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan’s total population numbers some 6.4 million people. According to government statistics, 92 percent is Sunni Muslim, 6 percent Christian and the remaining 2 percent Shiite Muslim and Druze. However, independent sources estimate that only up to 300,000 Christians of all denominations live in Jordan. A majority (about 105,000) belongs to the Greek Orthodox community. Some 50,000 are Latin Catholic; 32,000 are Melkite Greek Catholic; the rest belong to the Armenian (Apostolic and Catholic), Chaldean, Evangelical Protestant, Maronite and Syriac (Catholic and Orthodox) churches. The numbers of Chaldean and Syriac Christians in Jordan fluctuate, since most are Iraqi refugees.

In its latest report for 2010-2011, UN-Habitat ranked Amman as home to the largest group of refugees in the world. Approximately one in four of Amman’s two million residents are refugees, straining the city’s infrastructure and health and education systems. Nationwide, Jordan hosts some 1.9 million Palestinian refugees and between 400,000 and 500,000 Iraqi refugees, 38,517 of whom are registered with UNHCR.

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Tags: Refugees Jordan Christian-Muslim relations Melkite Greek Catholic Church