10 May 2009

Catholics in Jordan, Israel and Palestine

Pope Benedict greeting a Jordanian official

At his general audience last Wednesday in the Vatican Pope Benedict explained why he was about to set off on a week-long pilgrimage to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories: My dear friends, this Friday I leave Rome for my Apostolic Visit to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories. I wish this morning to take the opportunity through this radio and television broadcast to greet all the peoples of those lands. I am eagerly looking forward to being with you and to sharing with you your aspirations and hopes as well as your pains and struggles. I will be coming among you as a pilgrim of peace. My primary intention is to visit the places made holy by the life of Jesus, and, to pray at them for the gift of peace and unity for your families, and all those for whom the Holy Land and the Middle East is home. Among the many religious and civic gatherings which will take place over the course of the week, will be meetings with representatives from the Muslim and Jewish communities with whom great strides have been made in dialogue and cultural exchange. In a special way I warmly greet the Catholics of the region and ask you to join me in praying that the visit will bear much fruit for the spiritual and civic life of all who dwell in the Holy Land. May we all praise God for his goodness. May we all be people of hope. May we all be steadfast in our desire and efforts for peace.

Most of us, when we hear the word ‘Arab’ think ‘Muslim’. It is a fact that most Arabs are Muslims but many are Christians and many of those Catholics, descendants of the original Christians in Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Syria and Iraq, not to mention other countries to which some have emigrated.

Islam began around AD 610.

On 5 May the Vatican issued some statistics on the number of Catholics in the countries Pope Benedict is visiting this week, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

The Catholics in Jordan are nearly all members of the Melkite Rite. So are many in Palestine and Israel. Israel also has Catholics of the Maronite Rite, which is strongest in Lebanon, and of the Latin Rite, to which most Catholics throughout the world belong.

Queen Rania and King Abdullah II of Jordan greeting Pope Benedict (above)

Queen Rania with Pope Benedict as he greets Cardinal Emmanuel II Delly, Chaldean-Catholic Archbishop of Baghdad, Iraq (below)

VATICAN CITY, 5 MAY 2009 (VIS) - For the occasion of Benedict XVI's forthcoming pilgrimage to the Holy Land, due to take place from 8 to 15 May, statistics have been published concerning the Catholic Church in Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories. The information, updated to 31 December 2007, comes from the Central Statistical Office of the Church.

Jordan has a population of 5,720,000 of whom 109,000 (1.91 percent) are Catholic. There are three ecclesiastical circumscriptions and sixty-four parishes. Currently, there are four bishops, 103 priests and 258 religious. Major seminarians number seven.

A total of 30,595 students attend the 123 infant, primary, middle and secondary schools that belong to the Catholic Church or are run by priests or religious. Other institutions belonging to the Church or run by priests or religious in Jordan include two hospitals, one clinic, one family counselling centre, and three centres for education and social rehabilitation.

Israel and the Palestinian Territories have a population of 7,180,000 of whom 130,000 (1.81 percent) are Catholic. There are nine ecclesiastical circumscriptions, seventy-eight parishes and three pastoral centres of other kinds. Currently, there are eleven bishops, 406 priests, 1,171 religious and one lay missionary. Minor seminarians number fourteen and major seminarians 110.

A total of 43,876 students attend 192 centres of Catholic education, from kindergartens to universities. Other institutions belonging to the Church or run by priests or religious in Israel and the Palestinian Territories include eleven hospitals, ten clinics, nine homes for the elderly or disabled, eleven orphanages and nurseries, four centres for education and social rehabilitation, and two institutions of other kinds.

In Israel there is a small number of Hebrew-speaking Catholics who are a minority within a minority. This is how they describe themselves on their website : Welcome to the web site of the Hebrew Speaking Vicariate in Israel (H.S.V.I.), a part of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. We are a community of Hebrew-speaking Catholics who live in Israel, some of us belonging to the Jewish people and some of us coming from the nations. We form one community in Jesus Christ and we belong to one Church. We are to be found throughout Israel with our centers in the major cities.

Pope Benedict on Mount Nebo, Jordan, from where Moses saw the Promised Land.

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