“Giving hope in bleak times: help for young Jordanians, both Christian and Muslim “We must not leave the extremists a clear field”

Jordan, 30 December 2014: For years, the Hashemite Kingdom has been a haven for refugees from Iraq. However, refugees are also arriving by the thousands from Syria. They are fleeing from war and violence, the result of the most recent political developments and an increasingly militant Islamism. The entire region is now under threat because hundreds of thousands, both Christians and Muslims, have been or are being uprooted. There are many Christians among those who have had to flee their homes “who have lost everything but not given up their faith,” according to Father Rifat Bader. The Catholic priest works as a pastor in Jordan, but also carries out media and public relations work by order of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which comprises Israel, Jordan, Palestine and Cyprus. When asked how he would assess the current situation of Christians in Jordan, Fr Bader answered with a concrete example: “In my parish in Naour, which belongs to the Latin Patriarchate, we live and pray with 40 refugees every day. The future is bleak at the moment. The Christians from Iraq do not want to return to their homes; they just want to escape to other countries. Jordan may be safe, but they will not be allowed to remain here.” Father Rifat Bader has built a media centre in Amman and developed the Arab and English-language website “abouna.org” through the financial support of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). Both projects should “not favour one religion at the cost of the others, but promote a dialogue, especially among Christians and Muslims,” he emphasised. He then added, “We would like to see that it is possible to coexist peacefully and for Christians to remain in the Middle East. If the United Nations helps with schools, with housing, with work, then why shouldn’t the Christians stay?” According to Father Rifat Bader, approximately 180,000 native Christians are currently living in Jordan and he estimates that 70,000 Christian Jordanians live in other countries. These have been joined by umpteen thousands of Christian refugees from Iraq and Syria who fled together with hundreds of thousands of their Muslim countrymen. “Many Christians are waiting for visas to be able to leave the country for third countries. We help them, but at the same time want to give them more than just food, namely dignity, and strengthen their Christian identity.” The refugees are first housed in refugee centres; the church currently maintains seven of these. The capacities, however, are not enough. “We need further centres, because unfortunately, even more refugees will be coming,” Father Rifat Bader said. In addition to public relations work, Aid to the Church in Need supports various aid programmes for refugee families and children as well as youth work and youth pastoral care. According to Father Rifat Bader, the young generation faces especially great challenges. He believes that Jordan’s future absolutely depends on taking young people much more seriously. “We have entered into a dialogue with Muslim leaders. We meet each other at conferences at five-star hotels but also have to be ready to answer questions concerning what actually comes out of them. Young people make up seventy per cent of the Jordanian population. We must not ignore their concerns. We have to reach out to them more.” According to the Catholic priest, extremists use the lack of work prospects and the serious social problems within the country for propaganda purposes, including the Internet. Father Rifat Bader said, “We must not leave them a clear field. This is why young people should be allowed to have their say. We want to bring Muslims and Christians of various denominations together, open doors and look for solutions. We want to take to the streets and go to the peripheries, as Pope Francis said.”