By Dale Gavlak
MOUNT NEBO, Jordan (OSV News) — Some years ago, Jordan adopted a unique approach to celebrating Christmas and Easter to encourage unity. All Christian denominations agreed to celebrate Western Christmas, but Eastern, or Orthodox, Easter.
For this reason, Catholics throughout Jordan focused their Easter prayers April 16 on their homeland and for peace to reign in Jerusalem, which has experienced a violent wave of attacks. Other faithful joined in prayers at Jordan’s famed Mount Nebo, where according to biblical accounts Moses saw the Promised Land across the Jordan River. Mount Nebo is under the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.
In the capital Amman, Auxiliary Bishop Jamal Daibes of Jerusalem, who also is the Latin patriarchal vicar for Jordan, urged congregants to seek reconciliation and forgiveness first with God and then with their neighbors. This, he said, is important for Christians to engage in the blessings of the feast of the Resurrection, in which Jesus offers us new life in him.
“We direct our eyes on this feast toward the honorable Jerusalem, and we pray for peace, justice and stability, especially in what its citizens face, in terms of restrictions on the arrival of worshippers,” Bishop Daibes appealed. He also prayed for Jordan’s continued stability and prosperity and for the well-being of its ruler, King Abdullah II.
Due to Israeli security restrictions, hundreds of worshippers and foreign pilgrims gathered outside, rather than inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the Old City of Jerusalem April 15 to celebrate the Holy Fire, a symbol of Jesus’ resurrection. Israeli police limited attendance inside the church to 1,800 people, including 200 police officers.
Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, has urged unity after witnessing in recent weeks many violent events in Jerusalem, including those targeting churches and Christian symbols.
Jordan is the first country where Christians have unified the two calendars to celebrate Easter at the same time nearly half a century ago, explained Father Rifat Bader, director of the Catholic Center for Studies and Media in Jordan.
Father Bader wrote in his center’s press release that other countries have expressed an interest in following Jordan’s example. “May the Lord inspire rulers and heads of churches to truly become ‘like Jordan’ by unifying the feasts by not having them confined to calendars, but also with the unity of hearts.”
Other worshippers from the Anglican Church of the Redeemer in Amman journeyed to Mount Nebo for an Easter sunrise service. The mountain overlooks the Jordan River. For Britton Joel Kelling, celebrating Easter at Mount Nebo was very special.
“It’s being somewhere that has celebrated the Resurrection for hundreds, even thousands, of years. This is a very special place where pilgrims came on their way to Jerusalem for many years,” Kelling told OSV News. “It’s wonderful to see the sunrise and the mountains of Jerusalem in the distance and to know that the Resurrection was then, it is now and is always.”
American professor Katherine Ledford of Appalachian State University is a mountain specialist and teaches in Jordan. She told OSV News that worshipping the risen Christ on top of Mount Nebo was personally extraordinary.
“It’s one of the most important and symbolic mountains in Christendom and other religions. Being here physically is a gift to make connections to those stories that we’ve heard, learned and repeated for years,” Ledford said of the biblical account.
Hailing from the Appalachian Mountains, Ledford said that there are many churches and even a community there that have also adopted the Mount Nebo moniker.
Anglican priest and Arabic scholar the Rev. Terence Kleven said, “Coming out around sunrise, we’re reminded of the dedication the women had when they visited the tomb and found it empty. Being at Mount Nebo, we are grateful to the Franciscans for their willingness to use their facilities to celebrate our risen Lord, the center of our Christian faith.”
“It’s our privilege as people who live in Amman right now to come to Mount Nebo, look over at the Promised Land and to celebrate the fulfillment of the promise — that he would give his people a savior of the world,” his wife, Kathy Kleven, added.
The Franciscans spent some 30 years restoring the Byzantine mosaics found on the archaeological site, which includes a church and monastery. Mount Nebo attracts visitors from around the world drawn to its spiritual and artistic significance.