King Abdullah II of Jordan said that he will protect the existence and identity of Arab Christians, when last week he met the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who is on a 12-day tour of the Middle East.

King Abdullah II spoke of Jordan as a model of harmonious coexistence between Christians and Muslims. Jordan used to be one of the most open and religiously free countries in the Middle East.

The last couple of years, however, have seen a change – with an increase in government restrictions and a high number of social hostilities involving religion. Muslims who decide to become Christians face hostilities from local authorities, their (faith) communities and their families.

The country ranks number 27 in the World Watch List of 50 countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian.

‘All-consuming suffering’

The Jordanian King reportedly also said in his conversation with the Archbishop that actions by the Israeli government threaten the existence of Christian and Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, and that Jordan’s Hashemite Custodianship would “reject any attempt to alter the Arab identity of the Holy City area in which they are concentrated”.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, in Jerusalem on Sunday, addressed a packed St George’s Cathedral in the east of the city, where he spoke about the “all-consuming suffering” felt by the Church in the region, while stressing the presence of Christians “is essential to the life and hope in this whole area”.

Today, Monday, he visited Bethlehem and met Palestinian Christians there. Later this week he’s due to travel to the West Bank. His programme also include some more political meetings with, amongst others, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The Archbishop visited the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem and the holy sites of all three monotheistic religions in Jerusalem’s Old City. He also made a brief trip to Gaza, and visited a Christian school and a kibbutz in the Galilee.