Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

« Previous Post | Babylon & Beyond Home | Next Post »

JORDAN: Will Pope add spiritual spark to the economy?

May 8, 2009 |  8:35 am


Selling a wooden Jesus has never been tougher, but Samir Haddad, a sunburned shopkeeper with dust collecting on his Virgin Mary statues, hopes that the just-arrived Pope Benedict XVI will add ecclesiastical spark to the Jordanian economy.

The pope’s entourage will pass Haddad’s shop Saturday as it winds through the town of Madaba, where pilgrims with flecks of British and Italian accents have been browsing but not buying. It’s been dismal since the global financial crisis settled in months ago and the world of relics, souvenirs and kitsch contracted.

“The tourists who come have no money to spend,” said Haddad, peering through strands of rosaries and worry beads hanging vine-like over his counter. “Business is down 60% and now we have fears of the swine flu. Travel groups are canceling tours. We hope in the month after the pope leaves business will get better.”

The other shopkeepers felt the same. They sat on the sidewalk in plastic chairs, watching their cigarettes burn smaller. The weaver’s loom was still; no matter how pretty, no one was buying carpets of the Last Supper. Lamb spun on a spit in the kebab restaurant. The big man in the white apron shook his head.

The cops guarding St. Gregory’s listened to the “Welcome Pope” banners snap in the wind, which blew out of town and across the wheat fields.

-- Jeffrey Fleishman in Madaba, Jordan

Photo: Pope Benedict XVI arrives in Amman, the Jordanian capital. His entourage will pass through Madaba, where merchants are hoping for a boost in sales of religious items.

Full coverage: Pilgrimage to the Holy Land