The Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in Jordan Is Symbol of Reconciliation in Torn Holy Land
Increasing numbers of pilgrims from around of the world seek solace and the intercession of the Virgin Mary at the foot of this replica of the famous sanctuary in the south of France.
AMMAN, Jordan — In a war-torn Holy Land riven by interreligious divisions, more and more people are turning to Jordan’s replica of the Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine in France that stands as a bastion of peace.
Established in 2015 in the parish of Na’our, on the outskirts of the capital of Amman, the shrine is first and foremost the fruit of a dream, that of Father Rifat Bader, parish priest between 2009 and 2020, which matured over a series of pilgrimages to the famous site in southeastern France of the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin to St. Bernadette Soubirous.
Jordan, the birthplace of the first Christian communities in history and home to the site of Jesus’ baptism, has just over 30 Catholic parishes — a number that exceeds that of the Israeli and Palestinian Holy Land territories combined.
Bishop Jean-Marc Micas of Tarbes and Lourdes visited the Na’our site last April at the invitation of the Hashemite Kingdom, to try to establish new forms of partnership between the two sites. In recent years, the Jordanian authorities have supported a number of projects aimed at renovating or promoting the country’s Christian religious heritage, in particular with a view to preserving the presence of this small minority, which represents around 3% of this predominantly Muslim country but which at the same time generates a significant share of the country’s economy.
Strong Popular Support
It was also with this in mind that the government supported the construction of a shrine entirely dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes in the Na’our parish, which was founded in 1924 and now includes some 150 families.
“This dream matured in me in the wake of my first visit to Lourdes in the 1990s, which first nurtured my deep devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary,” said Father Bader in an interview with the Register.
It was when he became parish priest of Na’our, then known as Sacred Heart of Jesus, in 2009, that his dream of erecting an identical replica of the Massabielle grotto on Jordanian soil took shape. His plan proved pleasing to Providence, for, once launched, the project came to fruition with astonishing fluidity.
“After our architect — a local Christian woman — completed her plans and the then-Bishop of Lourdes Nicolas Brouwet sent us a letter of permission to reproduce [the shrine], donations poured in very quickly, both from local faithful and from the Jordanian diaspora, particularly in the U.S.A., which covered the 40,000-dinar ($55,000) construction costs.”
The work was completed in just a few months, thanks to the active participation of the local faithful, who also facilitated transport of the replica of the original Our Lady of Lourdes statue from Italy. In 2017, this same enthusiasm led to rapid fundraising for the erection of a large hall adjoining the grotto to accommodate parish members. “In particular, we owe a great deal to the Iraqi faithful, refugees in the region after the Islamic State took Mosul in 2014,” Father Rifat explained.
Fostering Hope and Reconciliation
These Iraqi Christian families, thousands of whom had already begun to flock to Jordan in 2003 after the U.S. invasion of their country, welcomed the initiative like a caress from heaven. Father Rifat remembers with emotion how many of them came to the newly inaugurated grotto to pray, sing and implore God's mercy on their suffering people.
More recently, against the backdrop of the bloody war raging in Gaza, which is threatening the stability of populations throughout the Holy Land, pilgrims from the region went to find comfort at the feet of the Virgin of Lourdes, who had passed on to St. Bernadette the certainty of a promised land in the world beyond. Masses and prayer vigils for Christians caught up in the suffering of war were particularly numerous around Christmas.
“The Virgin Mary still enjoys exceptional popularity in the region, including among Muslims, many of whom come to celebrate the feast of the Annunciation with us,” Father Bashir Bader, the parish’s new parish priest since 2020, explained in an interview with the Register.
“More people are celebrating their engagements at the grotto; it’s becoming a widespread movement among Christian youth.”
“They come with their families, and we then hold refreshments in the adjoining room,” he continued, revealing that many of the couples who become engaged at the grotto later return to have their children baptized at the same location. “We're recording a boom in the first name ‘Lourdes’ since the grotto was built,” he said, also reporting that a number of blessings have been granted to visitors. “This outpouring of love experienced and embodied around Our Lady of Lourdes here in Jordan is very inspiring!”
This ray of Christian hope has reverberated beyond the borders of the Middle East and has not gone unnoticed in the French Pyrenees. In 2018, Bishop Nicolas Brouwet, head of the Diocese of Lourdes until 2021, visited the site at the invitation of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
In 2023, Jordanian religious and political authorities invited Bishop Micas, with the aim of formalizing relations between the two sanctuaries and, if possible, envisaging partnerships.
Although the partnership between the two shrines has not yet been formalized, Na’our has already established itself as an important pilgrimage site in Jordan, with priests and delegations from various countries regularly stopping there with prayer intentions.
At a Mass celebrated at the site last April 18 — an event that was also intended to relaunch pilgrimages in the wake of the COVID-19 health crisis — Bishop Micas expressed his wish to see fraternity between Christians from the Holy Land and the West deepened by such pilgrimages.
“Visiting the Holy Land, I’ve always thought that if we were able to bring peace there, then we would have peace everywhere. This land is the key; that’s my deep conviction,” he said in an interview with the Register following the celebration, adding that “helping the faithful to cross the sea on both directions” would be a good first step in that direction.
The day before, this conviction had already found a special resonance in his conversation with Jordanian Tourism Minister Makram Mustafa Queisi. In their exchange, this former ambassador to the Holy See, who is a Muslim, had indicated that he sees a connection between his first appointment as minister and his visit to the sanctuary of Lourdes with his wife a few days earlier.
“I’m not speaking as a minister of tourism, but as a man of faith,” he said, considering in this light that the Christian presence in Jordan “was not calculated by numbers” but by its good fruit.
These words have a particular resonance at a time when the Holy Land is being torn apart by the conflict between Israel and Hamas and when Christians often have as their only instrument of witness the boundless love they draw from Christ. The Latin patriarch of Jerusalem himself reminded us of this during a Mass he celebrated on the occasion of his official visit to Budapest, Hungary, Jan. 18.
“In these moments of darkness, the meek, the little ones, are sewing love,” said Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, adding that they will be particularly needed when the time to rebuild a future comes. Until that happy day comes, peace-builders can turn to the intercessory and healing power of Notre Dame of Lourdes, in this land once trodden by the first Christians.