Posted by: rbbadger | May 11, 2009

The Pope in the Holy Land

A common sterotype of Arabs is to assume that they are all Muslim.  However, in the Middle East, there are small Christian communities, many of them reaching back to the very foundations of Christianity itself.  While they may speak the same language as their Muslim counterparts, they are a minority.  The small Christian communities have borne much suffering over the years.  In Israel, they suffer from being a minority within a minority.  While most of the people in the State of Israel are of Jewish descent, there are still many Palestinians.  And among those are the members of the Christian communities of Israel and Jordan.

Jordan is unique among the Middle Eastern nations.  It is fairly tolerant to non-Muslims.  About 6% of the country is Christian with the majority being Greek Orthodox.  The women of the Royal Family, far from being covered from head to foot, dress in modern dress and do not wear head coverings, apart from visiting Mosques or fulfilling their religious duties.  The late King Hussein was married to an American architect, Lisa Halaby, who is now known as Queen Noor.

For the Catholics of Jordan and the Holy Land, they fall under the jurisdiction of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.  Originally founded in 1099 after the First Crusade, it remained in Jerusalem until Saladin, the sultan of Egypt and Syria conquered Jerusalem, at which point the patriarchate moved to Acre (today’s Akko, Israel), and then on to Cyprus.  For a long time, the Patriarchate had its seat in Rome until 1847 when Pope Pius IX refounded the Patriarchate of Jerusalem.  Now, the Patriarchate serves the Catholics in Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority.  While the vast majority of the Catholics in the Holy Land are Arabs, there are a few Jewish converts who celebrate Mass in Hebrew and have a Patriarchal Vicar to tend to their needs.  The current Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem is His Beatitude, the Most Blessed Fouad Twal, a Jordanian native who recently served as Bishop of Tunis in North Africa.


Anyhow, here’s a photo of Sunday’s Mass.


The late Pope John Paul II was a talented linguist.  When he came here to South Korea, for months before the trip, a Korean priest stationed in Rome taught the Pope enough Korean to where he could say Mass in Korean.  While Pope Benedict XVI does speak several languages well, including English, French, German, and Italian, and also has a knowledge of Latin and Greek, on his visit to Jordan, I was surprised to see that a great portion of the Mass was in English.  CatholicTV, the Catholic on-line channel of the Archdiocese of Boston is keeping up the videos of some of the events surrounding the Papal Visit up on its site.  You can watch those videos at  It looks like English will also be used in most of the other Masses at various other places in the Holy Land as well.  Arabic is a very difficult language to read, speak, or even pronounce.  While he did say a couple of things in Arabic, most of it was in English.


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