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  • Legitimizing Jordan as the Holy Land:Papal Pilgrimages—1964, 2000
  • Kimberly Katz

Pope Paul VI's journey to the Holy Land in 1964, the first papal pilgrimage ever, took him to many Biblical sites, most of which were then under Jordanian control. The historical period leading up to this tour saw subtle political jockeying between Jordanians and Palestinians regarding their respective national standing in the Holy Land. In the year 2000, a Jubilee Year on the Catholic calendar, John Paul II made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, only the second ever by a pope. In the thirty-six year interim, much had changed in the region—politically, geographically, and nationally. In 1967, three years after the first papal pilgrimage, the region's national borders were re-defined as a result of the June War. The Hashemite Kingdom lost Jerusalem—the core of Jordan's claim to the Holy Land—as well as the West Bank, to Israel's occupation. In the wake of that situation, a new competition emerged, this time among Jordanians, Israelis, and the Palestinians, represented by the Palestinian Authority since its establishment in 1994, over claims to the Holy Land.

Jordan, a country with few previously-shared traditions, engaged a new historical and geographical situation after the 1948 War, in addition to being faced with the absorption of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees. Having fallen under Jordanian control during the 1948 war, Jerusalem and its holy places played an important role in Jordan's construction of its "self-portrait" during the nineteen-year period in which the Holy City was part of Jordan.1 In the Muslim world, control over Jerusalem, the third-holiest city in Islam, allowed King Abdullah and later his grandson, King Hussein, to demonstrate both Jordanian sovereignty and Hashemite legitimacy over a greatly venerated Islamic city. The Hashemites, claiming descent from the Prophet Muhammad, had lost the holy cities of Mecca and Medina to the Saudi family early in the twentieth century. They could certainly claim compensation for their loss a couple of decades later with their capture of the Old City of Jerusalem in 1948—or as recorded in Jordanian historiography, their "saving Jerusalem from falling under Zionist control." The al-Aqsa Mosque, the al-Buraq site, and the Dome of the Rock are all sites associated with Muhammad's "Night Journey and Ascension to Heaven," recorded in Qur'an 17:1, and appearing in many hadiths (sayings of the Prophet). One also finds reference to these hadiths in King Abdullah's memoirs, an effort to tie the modern Hashemites' claim for religious legitimacy beyond their ancestral birthplace in Mecca, just as their ancestor Muhammad's prophetic legitimacy includes the Holy City of Jerusalem.2 The presence of Jerusalem's Christian holy places now in Jordan afforded the kingdom's leaders an opportunity to assert their position in the city by claiming to serve as protectors of sacred Christian sites. In the intervening period between the two papal journeys to the Holy Land, Jordan was forced to re-make a collective identity through the promotion of sites found within its shrunken post-1967 boundaries. During these two landmark papal pilgrimages to the Holy Land, the Jordanian authorities represented holy sites as symbols of national identification—discursively in official speeches and visually on cultural markers, including tourism promotional materials and postage stamps. While other factors and social groups certainly influenced the project of identity-building in Jordan during this period, they remain outside this article's focus.

The papal tours exacerbated existing political tensions in the region. The pope faced competition between national groups in the 1964 visit with Jordanians and Israelis, and in the 2000 visit with Jordanians, Palestinians, and Israelis, each vying for papal authentication of its position in the Holy Land. The polemics of both papal pilgrimages inspired the themes argued in this study: a visit by a pope to the Holy Land authenticates Christian sites traditionally deemed holy, as well as sites newly conceived of, discovered, or re-discovered, thereby impacting nation-building efforts focused on sacred Christian sites. Both in 1964 and in 2000, Jordanian authorities promoted, or alternatively, re-invented a number of religious sites...


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pp. 181-189
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