Photo: The Brazen Serpent sculpture by Italian artist Giovanni Fantoni is seen in a view of the Holy Land from Mount Nebo in Jordan. ( CNS photo/courtesy of Jordan Tourism Board of North America)
While our trip to Jordan was principally to visit with the people who staff the wonderful projects that CNEWA (Catholic Near East Welfare Association) supports, Jordan is a beautiful country with so many reminders of ancient times, especially Biblical places and events.
One of the most important is Bethany Beyond the Jordan where John baptized Jesus. Pope Francis will visit there on May 24. Nestled in a valley through which the narrow Jordan flows, one can see Jericho across the Dead Sea and you easily can picture Jesus walking across the desert to the spot on the Jordan where John was baptizing. Nearby are fields where reeds are bending with the wind and nestled by the river are groves which are a natural habitat for bees producing the honey John lived on in his desert years. The actual place is quiet and still. Nearby are ruins of a fourth century cruciform Church built on stilts some of whose stones can be identified. Not far from this holy and prayerful site, churches have been built by the major Christian traditions: Catholic, Greek, Russian, Armenian and Ethiopian.
A trip to this place south of Amman is incomplete without a side trip to the Mount Nebo, the mountain Moses climbed so that he could look into the Holy Land promised by God to the Jews. Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict both visited the spot on the top of the mountain as did we. Looking from that holy place we could survey the Moab desert and the land beyond the Dead Sea to Jericho and on up to what now is Jerusalem. The Franciscan friars have a friary and guest house there and we were welcomed to a real Italian dinner. Both the Cardinal and I rejoiced to see Pasta Bolognese which prepared us for the rest of the day’s events.
That meant moving on to visit the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary who care for Syrian and Iraqi refugees in the south of Jordan. They have a special care for at-risk young women, many of them pregnant. To know these women, both the sisters and their charges, is to know both suffering and hope, tragedy and human dignity. We had a simple but delicious dinner with them afterwards before returning to Amman. Again we witnessed great joy in the face of challenges and a bonding between the sisters and the people they love that showed how Easter joy can be lived and hope renewed.