Bishop says the Christian influence in Jordan is still strong

Jerusalem Bishop William Shomali, newly appointed to the Latin Patriarchate of Jordan, says that although Christians are a very small minority in Jordan, through the Catholic schools, hospitals and charities their presence is strongly felt in the communities.

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, after consultation with the Bishops Council and the Consultative Council of the Latin Patriarchate, announced Feb. 8 that he named Bishop Shomali the next Patriarchal Vicar of Jordan.

Auxiliary bishop of Jerusalem since 2010, Bishop Shomali told CNA Feb. 9 that while he will make several visits to Jordan over the next few months, including one for a bishops’ conference, he won’t permanently take over in Jordan until a few months from now, at which point he will reside in Amman.

Although Christians are a very small minority in the area – they only make up about two percent of the overall population, he said – their social status and presence, relatively speaking, has a much stronger influence.

“The Catholic Church, although a minority, is very active through Catholic schools, Caritas, and other institutions,” he said. “We also have Catholic hospitals in Jordan, so our presence in the health and social and educational sectors is strong.”

This doesn’t mean Bishop Shomali won’t face challenges in Jordan, though.

The issues, he said, are not new ones, but ones the area has been facing for some time: mainly pertaining to the economy, refugees and the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The presence of two million refugees” from Syria in Jordan, he said, presents a challenge on a humanitarian level, although the Catholic organization Caritas is very involved on that level.

Jordan is also dealing with an ongoing economic crisis, which significantly affects institutions of higher education, such as the local universities.

“Another challenge is that the diocese is divided into many sectors: Jordan, Palestine, Israel,” he explained. “So we have to care for the unity of the diocese, despite the political and economic differences and discrepancies.”

Asked his response to the possibility of a U.S. embassy move from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem, which U.S. bishops condemned just earlier this week, Bishop Shomali said that the bishops in the Holy Land are also united in considering it a bad idea.

“We feel that if the embassy is transferred, it will be a handicap against the two-state solution,” he said, and that they really “don’t advise Mr. Trump to do that.”

Not all bad news, the bishop said that Jordan does have a number of young and vibrant priests which helps to make his job much easier. “On the positive side, we have a younger clergy, very dynamic, and very orthodox, which makes it easier for the bishop to work,” he said. (CNA)

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