A new Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto on the edge of the Jordanian desert

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Bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes in southwestern France Monsignor Nicolas Brouwet

A new Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto on the edge of the Jordanian desert

By Malo Tresca in Naour, Jordan/ international.la-croix.com

Catholic Church, government working to develop religious tourism hotspot in a region deeply troubled by instability .

Thousand of Catholics came to honor the visit of French Bishop Nicolas Brouwet to Naour in Jordan at the end of September.

Perched on a hillside in the city of Naour on the outskirts of Amman, the capital of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, is a shrine erected three years ago to Our Lady of Lourdes.

Thousands of local Catholics thronged to the shrine at the end of September 2018 for a series of events including Vespers, Marian processions, prayer vigils with young people and a high Mass.

The occasion was a visit by Bishop Nicolas Brouwet of Tarbes and Lourdes from France’s High Pyrenees, who had arrived to bless the new shrine.

“I have always dreamed of seeing a Lourdes shrine that would also attract Muslims who are very attentive to the person of Mary,” said Fr. Dr. Rif'at Bader, the local parish priest and director of the Catholic Center for Studies and Media in Jordan, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the vicariate of Jordan.

The Jordanian government, which wants to decentralize religious tourism beyond Petra and the banks of the Jordan River, has also given its backing to Father Bader’s bold vision for the site.

“We hope that international tourist agencies will send us large groups of pilgrims,” he said, brandishing a map on his phone indicating road directions to the shrine. “Groups of Filipinos and Italians have already begun to arrive.”

Naour local government authorities, who say the city has from 2,000-3,000 Christians out of a total population of 65,000, are also banking on the shrine’s success.

“We are very pleased that this church, which could attract many people, has been developed for our Christian brothers and sisters,” said Zayid Sawah’ir, the Muslim mayor of the town.

Many local parishioners who joined a candlelit procession to the grotto for the blessing are of the same view.
“In a country where Christians are a minority, it enables us to open up to the faithful from other regions,” whispered one visitor from Aleppo in Syria.

Nobody shrinks from the fact that economic expectations are also involved. Although there was a rise in the number of visitors in 2017, crises and wars in the Middle East since 2011 all combined to undermine the local tourism sector.

Nonetheless, Jordan has many biblical sites of staggering beauty, including Bethany, the traditional site of Christ’s baptism, and Mt. Nebo, where Moses is believed to have seen the Holy Land for the first time.

“The number of religious tourists has risen by only a small amount in recent years and it accounted for less than 1.5 per cent of the four million visitors last year,” said Issa Gammoh, secretary general of the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.

He blamed the shortfall on “the lack of an effective business strategy for the world tourist market.”

The arrival of Bishop Brouwet thus provided an opportunity for a lesson in marketing.

“We have worked relentlessly to draw maximum benefit from Bishop Brouwet’s visit to Naour and we want to reproduce in Jordan what he has succeeded in doing in Lourdes,” Gammoh said.

The shrine is expected to feature a new religious tourist itinerary for Jordan.

A shop on the building’s ground floor already sells rosaries, icons, statues of the Virgin Mary, flasks for holy water as well as a multitude of souvenirs.

Bishop Brouwet is pleased with the twinning relationship that is now developing between Lourdes and Naour.

Nevertheless, he emphasizes the main purpose of the French and Jordanian shrines during Mass that he celebrated on September 22.

“Above everything else, we need to adopt Mary as our mother,” he said.

Tue, 10/02/2018 - 22:07
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