Madaba, the Jordanian city of prayer in the Mosque of Jesus

Inscriptions celebrate Mary, in an area where faiths coexist

20 September, 21:06

     MADABA (JORDAN) - The denomination may be surprising, but if one looks deeper into the nature of the Jordanian city of Madaba, less than 20 km from Amman, and in reality in this entire Middle Eastern country, one will see that here, coexistence of faiths is a fact of life. In Madaba, every Friday the Muslim faithful fill the Mosque of Jesus Christ.

    Built in 2008, thanks to the effort of a Palestinian businessman who lives in Ukraine (there's a banner outside marking his contribution), the mosque is dedicated to Jesus as a prophet of Islam. "And Mary is the most praised woman in the Quran. And all the sacred books of all religions praise God, let us remember," said custodian Abed Elrheem Dahbur. He then points to the inscriptions that exalt the virtues of the Madonna.

    In Madaba, Christians and Muslims even have the same last names, and the reciprocal respect is palpable. Not far from here, in fact, is the Greek-Orthodox church of St. George, which preserves an extraordinary relic: the "Map of the Holy Land", a Byzantine-era mosaic that shows the road to reach Jerusalem from 150 places in the region. Only one-third of it has survived, but the symbolism it contains is still powerful, with its 157 captions in Greek. No one knew of its existence until 1890, when the church was built.

    The church is regularly visited also by Muslims - of the approximately 70,000 residents of Madaba, 20,000 are Christians, one of the largest communities in Jordan - just as happens for a site of extraordinary importance for believers: Mount Nabo, from where, according to Scripture, Moses saw the Promised Land, where however he wasn't allowed to enter and where he would be buried. From up there - the site is managed by the Franciscans - one can see the Jordan Valley, the Dead Sea, and Israel. Here too, important mosaics testify to the Christian presence. "Pope John Paul II declared it a pilgrimage site for Christians, and every year many people come," said Father Emmar, one of the three priests who manage the site. "Here there haven't ever been problems, the pilgrims haven't decreased," he said.

    But the most ancient testimony of coexistence is certainly the nearby Umm ar-Rasas, remains of an ancient Roman-Byzantine caravan-route city where a full 56 churches rose up. From 665 A.D. through the year 900 it flourished as a stopping point for cargo and people, even under the Islamic domain of the area. An earthquake destroyed it (it has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2004, but only a small part has been brought to light through excavations), and today it sits in a windswept land where, not far from other splendid mosaics in the Church of St. Stephen, there is a small Muslim cemetery. .

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