Jordan has always been regarded as part of the Holy Land. There are several holy sites here associated with Christianity. They include the place on the river Jordan (Al-Maghtas) where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist; the fortified hilltop (Machaerus) overlooking the Dead Sea where John the Baptist was imprisoned and executed; and Mount Nebo from where Moses looked onto the promised land. Jordan has also been known as the ‘land of peace’ (Amman). An appropriate place to spend Christmas: the birth of our Saviour.
Christmas Day is a public holiday in Jordan. There were Christmas Masses in all Churches in Amman. I concelebrated at the vigil at the Church of St Mary of Nazareth in Sweifieh; the midnight mass at the Church of St Jean Baptiste de LaSalle in Jabal Hussein and the Christmas morning mass in the Church of St Mary of Annunciation in Jabal Luweibdeh. The Churches were fairly crowded; the congregations comprised people from different parts of the world: from New Zealand to Canada. However, at every Mass a sizeable section was from the Philippines and India. A good percentage of the Filipinos work as domestics; several of the Indians are from Kerala, mainly nurses in the local hospitals, particularly in the prestigious Cancer Hospital here.
Every Mass was memorable. The singing was gutsy; people’s participation was high. The Churches were festooned, with the crib and the Christmas tree having their places of prominence. The atmosphere was charged with the spirit of Christmas: people wished one another, posed for photos and were high on ‘selfies’.
There was also a heavy dampener over Christmas: exactly a week earlier, on December 18, terrorist attacks in Al-Karak, the historic city in Southern Jordan, resulted in eleven fatalities and injuries to many. The Jordanian authorities were taking no chances: all Churches were provided with heavy security on Christmas Day; public Christmas parties in hotels and clubs were cancelled. Newspapers and electronic media, on Christmas Day and thereafter, highlighted the continued violence in different parts of the world and the total disregard that powerful people and even certain nations have for a more peaceful and livable world.
On December 26, Fr. Michael Linden, Superior of the Jesuit Center in Amman, hosted an ‘at home’ for about twenty refugees, living in the city. Most of the refugees were Muslims from Sudan and were now living ‘alone’. It was a Christmas celebration in the true sense of the word: generously showing that there is room in the inn, welcoming the ‘other’, sharing and caring! There was plenty of food and drink, singing and camaraderie and gifts for all. At the end of several hours of togetherness, one of the refugees summed it all saying, “Now I know what Christmas is all about: to make me feel wanted, accepted like a human being!”
In his many messages these past couple of days, Pope Francis has been painstakingly highlighting the significance of Christmas; particularly important was his homily at the midnight mass, when he said, “let us allow the Child in the manger to challenge us, but let us also be challenged by all those children in today’s world who are lying not in a crib, caressed with affection by their mothers and fathers, but in squalid “mangers that devour dignity”. Children who hide underground to escape bombardment, on the pavements of large cities, in the hold of a boat over-laden with immigrants… Let us allow ourselves to be challenged by those children who are not allowed to be born, by those who cry because no one relieves their hunger, by those who hold in their hands not toys, but weapons”.
A powerful challenging message indeed for all us: in Jordan and elsewhere in the world, as we celebrate the Christmas Season.
(Fr Cedric Prakash SJ, a Jesuit of the Gujarat Province, is a human rights activist. He is currently based in Lebanon, engaged with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in the Middle East on advocacy and communications. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org )(Published on 02nd January 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 1)#