To Walk Where Christ Walked, Jordan
When working on overseas projects I had the great fortune of going to 29 different counties and seeing the cultures and governments of all these. Being from America, I always judged people and governments against what I knew the most, America. In time I grew to understand that America may have the best governmental system in the world but not the best people. A constitution that gives the greatest freedom to people will produce the greatest wealth and this is good. But when freedom goes too far, it produces weak and self-centered people.
In some of these 29 countries I saw people who had little opportunities under very poor government systems but yet, they found a way to be strong and charitable to each other. Never did I find both a government and a people that I could be proud of until I went last week to Jordan.
When flying into Jordan I thought of how they are surrounded by problem countries on all sides, and wondered what it would be like in the one country I had never visited. My flight from Lebanon to Jordan would have been one hour but since we had to fly around the Golan Heights and over Syria it took two hours.
Jordan has the largest border with Israel of any other country, and a huge border with Saudi Arabia. It also has a border with Syria, Iraq, Golan Heights and across the Gulf of Aqaba to Egypt. Under agreement Israel and Jordan hold the West Bank. Its only port to the sea is Al Aqabah, the Red Sea.
Considering that Jordan is surrounded by problem countries I expected the worst. Jordan stands between enemies on all sides. Iraq is a war zone. Saudi Arabia has no love for Israel. Egypt and Israel only tolerate each other. Syria and Israel both grind their teeth when talking of each other. Not far off is Iran who makes no secret of developing atomic bombs and missal systems to attack Israel.
During Israel's conflicts with the Palestine, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians flocked to Jordan. During the conflicts of Iraq thousands of Christians and moderate Moslems flocked to Jordan. As a result Jordan's population soared from less than a million to over four million is only a few years. I had spent a year in Syria and saw the Palestine Refugee camps where they were kept together but not allowed to become part of the Syrian culture. I expected the same in Jordan. Not to belittle Syria, America has the same problem, where we have China towns, Mexican villages, and even Italian towns (I am Italian). But completely integrating all different cultures into the society is very hard to do. So when I arrived at the airport I expected the worst, since I have been in many hot zones in the past.
But this is not what I encountered. Getting off the airplane and through the passport check I encountered very polite, English speaking security, with smiles on their faces and glad to see me. What I surprise? I did not even find this in my home country, Italy, or even in America. The people in the coffee shops of the airport spoke English and French and even the taxi drivers. Everyone seems happy at their work and happier to see people visiting their country. They even seemed proud of their country and their way of life. I was confused.
I was invited to Jordan by a friend going back 15 years, and I knew that she and her family were well known in Jordan by all the society. What I did not expect is how well loved they were. I was picked up by their personal driver and taken to the Marriott of Amman where I had everyone greet me as if I were royalty including Executive Lounge Privileges for 24 hours a day coffee, drinks and snacks. Disregarding my special treatment, the Hotel was the best I have ever seen in 29 countries. Many bars and restaurants of different kinds, health spas and swimming pools, exceptional service and located in the heart of town. http://marriott.com/property/propertyPage/AMMJR
The drive to the hotel was also surprising because the roads were modern and as good as any I have ever seen, with broad well paved lanes, will lit with many lights, safe islands between the roads and very polite drivers around us. All of the cars and trucks around us drove at safe speeds and at safe distances from each other. It seemed as if everyone was at least trying to make every effort to be polite to the other drivers. Having driven in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Lisbon, Rome and Manila, this was a shock.
In the capital of Jordan, Amman, I expected some conflict with the different cultures of Christians and Moslems and the influx of people from Palestine, Iraq, Iran, Israel, etc. But the truth is that I could not even tell who was who. Everyone seemed to be Jordanian to me. Only in the women can you tell a Moslem from a Christian because of the head covering, but these Moslems seemed different to me from the other countries I have been in because they were full of smiles and sometimes joking with others who were not Moslems. Everyone seemed to be friends no matter where you went. Another thing that took me by surprise is that no one was pushing their products on you even when they knew you were a visitor to their country.
Amman is a busy city with much happening everywhere, but the buildings and the streets all seem new or at least well kept and nothing seemed old, but I do not know why. Maybe the people just keep everything in good shape or that the weather does not age things or that it is in fact a new city, but to me it just looked as if everything had just been built. Walking the city I never felt so relaxed in any city in my life. Everyone I met spoke English and everyone was helpful and it at lest seemed to me, they were very happy to by Jordanian. Maybe its the food which is the best in the world.
My hosts came to the hotel and treated me to dinner and it was then that I saw how loved and known they were by everyone, even the most lowly help in the hotel. When you know them you would understand because they are in every kind of activity that will help the poor, the children, the education of the people, the culture, the very life of the people itself.
Fitting me into their busy schedule was a major charity and very difficult for them, but we accomplished what I wanted to do there and more. This is of a private nature and maybe someday I can reveal it but not now. I had dinner also at their home and later a meeting but between this all they treated me to a trip of my life with their private driver.
He picked me up at the Marriott Hotel in Amman and took me to Mount Nebo. There on the very spot where Moses looked at the promised land but could not enter and the spot where Moses died was built a Church and there I looked out over the promised land in the same way that Moses did. (Dt. 34, 1, 4) There also was the story of Balak and Balaam (Numbers 23: 11-14). Also the dispute over the body of Moses between Michael and Satan (Jude 9) and most important to me is that Mount Nebo is where the Ark of the Covenant was hidden by Jeremias (2 Mech 2:4-5) not be found again until the end times. On the mountain was also an iron cross with a serpent around it depicting the time Moses made a cross with the Serpent on it to protect the Jews from the bites of the serpents.
Never did I believe that I could stand on this spot and look out at the same sight that Moses saw but could not pass on to. From there I could see the Jordan River, the Dead Sea, Jericho, where Josue crossed the Jordan, in this valley the Manna stopped for the first time, and many other things from the Old Testament. Also from here I was looking at the place of John, the Baptist and where Elias lived in a cave and where he shut up the heavens from raining (the very man who destroyed the false prophets in 2 Kings 18 and where Elias went into the heavens in a whirlwind in front of Elisieus, and where Christ was baptized by John.
On Mount Nebo Pope John II came to pray.
Holy Father under the image of Moses' cross with Serpent. Holy Father Praying in the Church on Mt. Nebo
I then went down into the valley of the Jordan to the very spot where Christ was baptized by John. I stood on the spot in the Jordan where Christ stood to be baptized and where the Father spoke of Him, "You are My beloved Son, in Thee I am well pleased." Not far from this spot is a Church built in honor of John, the Baptist and here John preached to all who came to him. In these grounds Christ walked. It may be in this area that Christ spent 40 days fasting and started His war with Satan (Luke 4 ). On these grounds, maybe the very spot I walked Elias was taken up to the Heavens. Elisieus divided the waters with Elias's cape. Somewhere under my feet was the Ark of the Covenant (2 Mech 2:4-5) Somewhere under my feet Christ picked His first apostles, John and Andrew (John 1:40). John, the blessed Apostle, although only a boy, must have walked all over these grounds that I was now walking for he was a devoted follower of John, the Baptist.
I was then taken to the Marriott Hotel on Dead Sea. http://marriott.com/property/propertyPage/QMDJV Never have I seen such a hotel. U shaped with all rooms facing the Sea, it had everything and everything is grand style. It had American Sports bars with American hamburgers and Notchos and Spanish food, and there was French Restaurants, and Jordanian Restaurants, and outside bars and service everywhere. In the center was a giant swimming pool with water falls, and below that another swimming pool and below that another swimming pool and etc. There were mud baths, and gyms and saunas, and places to dance and live bands. I saw Moslems, Christians, French, English, Italian, Jordanians, and Syrians enjoying themselves together without any conflict.
There at the Marriott I changed clothes on the beach in changing rooms and swam (or floated) in the dead sea, the same place where Sodom and Gomorra were destroyed by fire from heaven and disappeared in the dead sea forever. In the mountains Lot and His daughters hid from the fire from Heaven. And there the race of Moabites came from the seed of Lot and his daughter. In some ways the dead sea and the Jordan river are the birth of good and evil throughout the world. These are the things going through my mind as a floated on the dead sea. Here Lot's wife turned to a pillar of salt and here the salt pillars dot the area around the south of the dead sea. The salt content in the dead sea is so high that you can hardly stand in the water without you feet coming up to the top, making it almost impossible to do anything but float.
JORDAN IS THE SAFEST PLACE I HAVE EVER BEEN IN AND THE HAPPIEST
Why is Jordan so safe and why are the people so happy. Jordan has no natural resources, no oil, no water, no major industry and little useable land for agriculture. But what it has is a very well educated Monarchy that has and does love its people. The former King, His Majesty, King Hussein said that Jordan's only natural resource was its people and he resulved to make them the best educated people in the world. Today they rank among the highest in the world with a 92% literacy rate and most speak many languages.
When the king died, he surprised the world by naming his first born son King, His Majesty King Abdullah II bin Al Hussein.
Abdullah II is the 43rd generation direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him). He assumed his constitutional powers as Monarch of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan on February 7th, 1999, the day his father, the late King Hussein, passed away. He began his primary education at the Islamic Educational College in Amman, and later attended St. Edmund's School in Surrey, England. For his secondary education, he attended Eaglebrook School and Deerfield Academy in the United States of America.
King Abdullah II joined the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in the United Kingdom in 1980, and was commissioned as Second Lieutenant in 1981. He was later appointed Reconnaissance Troop Leader in the 13th/18th Battalion of the Royal Hussars (British Army) in (West) Germany and England. In 1982, King Abdullah II attended Oxford University where he completed a one-year Special Studies course in Middle Eastern Affairs. Upon returning home, King Abdullah II joined the Jordanian Armed Forces and served as Platoon Commander and Company Second-in-Command in the 40th Armored Brigade. In 1985, he attended the Armored Officers Advanced Course at Fort Knox, Kentucky, USA. A year later, he became Commander of a Tank Company in the 91st Armored Brigade of the Jordanian Armed Forces holding the rank of Captain. He also served with the Royal Jordanian Airforce Anti-Tank Wing where he received his wings as well as his qualifications as a Cobra Attack Pilot.
In 1987, King Abdullah II attended the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. as a Mid-Career Fellow. He completed an Advanced Study and Research program in International Affairs, part of the ‘Master of Science in Foreign Service' program.
King Abdullah II, thereafter, resumed his military career where he held various positions, among them Commander of the Royal Jordanian Special Forces and Special Operations Commander. From January 1989 until October 1989 King Abdullah II was the 2nd Company Commander in the 17th Tank Battalion, and from October 1989 until January 1991 he was 2nd in Command of the 17th Tank Battalion, during which time, in 1990, he attended the Royal Staff College in Camberley in the United Kingdom. He was then promoted to the rank of Major. From January 1991 until January 1992 he was Armored Corps Representative in the Office of the Inspector General of the Jordanian Armed Forces.
King Abdullah became Battalion Commander of the Second Armored Cavalry Regiment in January 1992. In 1993, he was in the 40th Brigade with the rank of Colonel, and was made Deputy Commander of the Jordanian Special Forces. In 1994, he was made Commander of Special Forces with the rank of Brigadier and in 1996 he reorganized the Special Forces and other Elite Units into the Special Operations Command. King Abdullah was promoted to Major-General in 1998, and in June / July of the same year attended a defense resources management course in Monterrey Naval Post Graduate School.
Since his ascension to the throne, King Abdullah II has continued his late father's commitment to creating a strong and positive moderating role for Jordan within the Arab region and the world, and has worked towards the establishment of a just and lasting comprehensive solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. King Abdullah II is committed to building on the late King's legacy to further institutionalize democratic and political pluralism in Jordan. He has exerted extensive effort to insuring sustainable levels of economic growth and social development aimed at improving the standard of living of all Jordanians. He is also working towards modernizing Jordan's information technology and educational systems.
Recently he has extended the mandatory and free educational system to include computer and internet compency for everyone. This is not welcome news for the more radical Moslems, who do not want their people to have access to the news of the rest of the world, but the King says he has two lungs, the East and the West, and his people will also have two lungs.
Under King Abdullah's reign, Jordan was admitted to the World Trade Organization, and ratified agreements for the establishment of a Free Trade Area with the United States of America, the European Union, the European Free Trade Association countries, and sixteen Arab countries. King Abdullah II has also been involved in the drive for national administrative reform, as well as governmental transparency and accountability. He has been working on the advancement of civil liberties making Jordan one of the most progressive countries in the Middle East. Also, he has been involved in enacting the necessary legislations that guarantee women a full role in the Kingdom's socio-economic and political life.
King Abdullah II married Queen Rania on June 10th, 1993. The Royal Couple have one son, Prince Hussein, born on June 28th, 1994, and two daughters, Princess Iman, born on September 27th, 1996, and Princess Salma, born on September 26th, 2000. The King has four brothers and six sisters.
King Abdullah II holds a number of decorations from various countries. He is a qualified frogman, pilot and a free-fall parachutist. His other interests include automobile racing, water sports, scuba diving and collecting ancient weapons and armaments.
Although a constitutional Monarchy, the king and his wife are pushing for more democracy and more personal freedoms. It has been difficult for the old and new Kings because Jordan at 800,000 people has swelled to 4,000,000 people in a short time because of the wars around them. But these people have come into Jordan with the same rights as any other Jordanian. Today you cannot tell who was born in Jordan and who was not, because they all have the same happiness and freedoms of anyone else, man, woman, children, Jordanian or refugee.
Jordan has a peaceful relation with Israel, and with all its Arab neighbors. These countries need Jordan to be the New Switzerland during these wars. As Switzerland managed to remain peaceful during the first and second world wars in Europe, so Jordan manages to remain peaceful in the Middle East, as all sides need Jordan to be the pin of peace.
Aside from the wisdom of its Monarchy, the influx of 3,000,000 refugees have been for the most part the moderates who want to escape war and seek peace and harmony. These are the people of Jordan.
Jordan, the new holy land.
For the time being and without placing any blame on anyone, Israel has become a place where people do not want to go and should not go. To walk where Christ walked and to be where Christ was is no longer in Jerusalem as more and more Christians are moving out of Israel. Israel does not seem to care that pilgrims are not coming anymore because they are in a war. But Jordan welcomes pilgrims and makes them feel so welcome I have never felt this anywhere, even in Rome and Fatima.
In the last century the Holy Land was shut off to pilgrims but people would go to Rome to see peaces of the true cross, the nails, the house of Nazareth, even some of the steps with Christ's blood on it. But this was not the same as being in the country were Christ lived.
Again today we are faced with the same problem where we cannot go to the land where Christ walked because of war. But there is a place where Christ walked, and where He prayed that we can go to - Jordan. There are many things to see in Jordan besides the Holy Places of Christ, there are Roman Ruins, Ruins of Alexander the great, and of all the Persian Kings, and the most favorite of these is Petra and the tombs of the Kings and Jerash, or the City of Decapolis.
By Richard P. Salbato