Papal Visit Boosts "We Who've Been Here 2,000 Years"

Jordanian Christian Tour Guide Welcomes Pilgrim Pope

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By Mercedes de la Torre

AMMAN, Jordan, MAY 9, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI's visit to Jordan is enabling Catholics in the country to relish in their identity as "Arabs, Jordanians and Christians," says Nader Twal, a Christian tour guide.

Twal spoke with ZENIT today -- in fluent Italian gained from seven years studying in Rome -- about the presence of Jordan's high-profile pilgrim. The Pope arrived to the Holy Land on Friday for a weeklong pilgrimage that will also bring him to Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

Twal was born in Madaba, where the Pontiff went today to bless the cornerstone of a university being constructed by the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. In fact, he's from the same parish as His Beatitude Fouad Twal, patriarch of Jerusalem, with whom he also shares a last name.

The tour guide called the papal trip a decisive support for the Christians of the nation.

"The Christians who work in public administration can go to the Mass with the Pope this Sunday, though for them it is a workday," he explained. "This is a government decision to promote Christians getting together to share.

"This decision from the government reinforces what we say about living together [in Jordan]: Here there truly is respect among Christians and Muslims."

The Holy Father will celebrate Mass on Sunday at the Amman International Stadium.

Twal reflected on the importance of the Pope's visit for Christians, a tiny minority in the majority Sunni Muslim nation.

"I, as a Christian, always say that I am Arabic, Jordanian and Christian," he explained. "We Christians make up 3% [of the population of Jordan], Catholic are 1.5%. We see in this visit a support for the presence of Christians, we who've been here 2,000 years.

"The visit is also important because it has brought about the meeting of the Pope with the king and queen, with the leaders of the Muslims, and this is decisive to speak about existing together, about human elements, not dogmatic ones: themes that affect this region of the Middle East, which is always in conflict."

According to Twal, who is accustomed to presenting the biblical richness of Jordan, when the Pope goes Sunday to the banks of the River Jordan where Christ was baptized, it will be one of the most symbolic moments for the future of Christianity in Jordan. The Holy Father will be blessing the cornerstones for two churches to be built there, one for Latin-rite Catholics and the other for Greek-Melkites.

"Unfortunately, this site that is found at the origin of the Christian faith is still forgotten, even by the Church," Twal lamented. "The [Pope's] blessing is a gesture that calls attention, as it will be followed by the 1,300 journalists covering this trip: a call to the Church of all the world. A visit to Jordan should be an important part of pilgrimages to the Holy Land."