THE Kingdom of Jordan will continue in its efforts to protect the presence of Christians in the Middle East, King Abdullah II told the Archbishop of Canterbury on Tuesday. The commitment was made during a meeting at al-Husseiniya Palace, in Amman, at the start of Archbishop Welby’s 12-day visit to Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank.
On Sunday, Archbishop Welby will be made an Honorary Canon of St George’s Cathedral, Jerusalem. He is being accompanied throughout the visit by the Archbishop in Jerusalem, the Most Revd Suheil Dawani, whose diocese incorporates Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Syria, and Lebanon.
King Abdullah’s personal adviser for religious and cultural affairs, Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad, was present at this week’s meeting with Archbishop Welby. Prince Ghazi has worked alongside the Prince of Wales in speaking out for the need to protect Christian communities in the region.
Christians “are the past in the Middle East; they are the present; and they must be the future”, Archbishop Welby said.
He thanked King Abdullah for Jordan’s efforts to protect the region’s Christians, and for his efforts to promote interreligious dialogue.
In a separate meeting, Jordan’s Foreign Minister, Ayman Safadi, briefed the Archbishop on efforts to tackle terrorism in the region. The two agreed that the “exclusionary ideology” that drove groups such as Islamic State “should be countered as an enemy of the common humane values, and a phenomenon not affiliated with any religion or culture”, the Jordanian news agency Petra reported.
Also on Tuesday, Archbishop Welby visited the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. It is one of the largest in the region, and hosts some 80,000 mainly Syrian refugees. What had been intended to be a site of temporary resettlement is turning into a permanent community: markets and coffee shops have been established in the camp. It is now considered to be the fourth largest city in Jordan.
During the visit, Archbishop Welby spoke of the “incredible courage” of the people in the camp, and described the children as “extraordinary”.
“Many refugees here are traumatised from Syria — and many [are] suffering respiratory problems from the dust and wind,” he said. “It is, as usual, deeply moving to see people whose lives have been turned upside down but have the courage to create little islands of stability within their home. It is really beautiful to see.
“We pray for them, for God’s blessing on them, and for peace so that they can return to their home.”
On Wednesday, Archbishop Welby was expected to visit the traditional site of the baptism of Jesus, on the east bank of the River Jordan. Next week, he will visit the site from the west bank, and see the de-mining work being carried out on the approach to the site by a British charity, the Halo Trust.
In the coming days, Archbishop Welby will tour both Israeli and Palestinian areas, and will hold separate meetings next week with the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the President of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.