‘Jordan First’: Pope Francis’ Middle East pilgrimage will begin in Jordan
A decade ago, Jordan’s King Abdullah II used the phrase “Jordan First” as a slogan for his initiative to promote the ideals of democracy and to strengthen national unity in the service of his country. But for me as a Catholic priest, and for Christians the world over, “Jordan First” began 2,000 years before.
Jordan was first because it was at this spot that God first spoke to humanity. At Bethany Beyond the Jordan, at the moment of the baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ, we first learned that the one God is the Holy Trinity. Bethlehem is the birthplace of the Lord Jesus Christ, but Christianity and its new proclamation was birthed here in the sacred River Jordan. The plan for salvation started here.
Thousands of years ago, Moses stood on our Mount Nebo looking west over the River Jordan to the other part of this All Holy Land. For Muslims, it was this blessed land that witnessed the night journey of the Prophet Muhammad, during which the first qibla (the Muslim direction of prayer), Jerusalem, was connected with the second qibla, Mecca.
On that first papal pilgrimage to the Holy Land by Pope Paul VI 50 years ago, Jordan was first. In the third millennium, our now St. Pope John Paul II came for his own pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He, too, stood first in Jordan. In 2009 Pope Benedict XVI came first to Jordan to spend four days in the Land of Jordan before crossing the River. And this Saturday, May 24, 2014, Jordan will be first on the route of our pilgrim of love, Pope Francis.
Francis comes to Jordan with a proclamation and a message of love, bringing hope to a region yearning for unity and peace. Arab Christians are suffering. During this visit, the nations of the world will see that in the very region in which the Prince of Peace was born and Christianity was birthed, peace is lacking. In the parts of this region where extremism prevails, mosques are being devastated, churches demolished, and priests, nuns, and bishops abducted. Arab Christians have hope that this papal pilgrimage will bring comfort and encouragement to all in these difficult times.
The world will also see that here in Jordan, in the midst of it all, Christians enjoy fraternity and peaceful and friendly times with their brothers, the Muslims. Jordanian Christians and Muslims are not only the children of history, they are making history here and now. The pope’s blessed voyage will strengthen Jordanians as they provide more than just a holy land and a history to this region. He will bless Jordanians as they offer their model of coexistence as a gift to the world. Drawing from our long heritage of peaceful relations between Christians and Muslims, the Jordanian model of coexistence is a product of holiness, sacredness, and humanity, a light unto a darkened world.
A quick look around the region confirms that the banner specially chosen for Pope Francis’s pilgrimage, “That they may be one,” is a timely embodiment of that model. Accompanied by a rabbi and an imam, the pope will meet with his brother, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew II, in Jerusalem. Francis brings with him prayer and a new beginning for real efforts toward unity and peace. As Jordanians, unity is our responsibility and our first—and greatest—gift to the world.
Read about Pope Francis' next stop in Israel on his pilgrimage through the Middle East.