Amman | His Holiness Pope Francis arrived to Jordan in his first Papal visit to the region and pilgrimage to the Holy Land, carrying messages of tolerance, peace and coexistence.
The visit is his second trip abroad and marks 50 years of papal visits to The Hashemite Kingdom and the 20th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Jordan and the Vatican.
Upon his arrival, His Holiness was received and welcomed by His Royal Highness Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad and a number of local dignitaries and clergy, before proceeding to Al Husseinieh Palace in Amman, where he was received by Their Majesties King Abdullah II ibn Al Hussein, Queen Rania Al Abdullah and The Crown Prince Hussein II ibn Abdullah.
In Al Husseinieh Palace both His Holiness and King Abdullah exchanged gifts and discussed Jordan-Vatican ties and their shared concern for strengthening dialogue between Muslims and Christians.
Pope Francis also met with government authorities, Muslim and Christian leaders, and members of the diplomatic corps.
King Abdullah welcomed Pope Francis to the ‘Land of Faith, Land of Fellowship’ on behalf of all Jordanians and expressed his appreciation of the Pope’s messages of friendship and peace.
“Muslims everywhere appreciate your message of esteem and friendship. In addition to being the successor of Saint Peter, Your Holiness, you have become a conscience for the whole world,” King Abdullah said.
“Since becoming Pontiff, you have reminded us, in word and in deed, that “Pontiff” means “bridge builder.” Jordanians, too, are building bridges,” King Abdullah added.
“Here, today, Muslims and Christians are building a shared future, on the common ground of mutual respect, peace and devotion to God,” King Abdullah said.
Pope Francis offered affectionate greetings to King Abdullah and to citizens of Jordan, hoping that his visit will help advance good and cordial relations between Muslims and Christians within the region.
He also commended Jordan’s efforts in promoting values of moderation and religious cohesion through its numerous intra-faith and inter-faith initiatives.
“I take this opportunity to reiterate my profound respect and esteem for the Muslim community and my appreciation for the leadership of His Majesty the King in promoting a better understanding of the virtues taught by Islam and a climate of serene coexistence between the faithful of the different religions. I am grateful that Jordan has supported a number of important initiatives aimed at advancing interreligious dialogue and understanding between Jews, Christians and Muslims,” Pope Francis said.
“Religious freedom is in fact a fundamental human right and I cannot fail to express my hope that it will be upheld throughout the Middle East and the entire world,” His Holiness said.
“I would like to offer an affectionate greeting to the Christian communities present in this country since apostolic times, contributing to the common good of the society of which they are fully part. Although Christians today are numerically a minority, theirs is a significant and valued presence in the fields of education and health care, thanks to their schools and hospitals. They are able to profess their faith peacefully, in a climate of respect for religious freedom,” Pope Francis continued.
In line with its values of moderation and religious cohesion, Jordan heads numerous intra-faith and inter-faith initiatives in order to promote pluralism in Jordan, the region, and the world. These initiatives have gained international recognition for their impact in furthering closer Muslim-Christian relations.
Following his meeting with King Abdullah, Pope Francis headed to the Amman International Stadium at Al Hussein Youth City where an excited crowd of 30,000 people, mostly Christians from Jordan and the Middle East, waited for him to hold Holy Mass.
Audience members chanted “long live the Pope” and waved the flags of both Jordan and the Vatican, in addition to flags of their home countries; Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Spain, Italy, Argentina and France.
“My friends and I are excited about Pope Francis’ first trip to an Arabic country. I hope he prays for peace for all Arabs”, 25-year-old Rami, visiting from Egypt along with 20 friends to see the Pope, said.
“I arrived this morning and will be leaving tomorrow. I hope his visit will bring peace to the region and hope for Christians in the Arab world,” Maya Abu Zeid from Lebanon said.
Upon his arrival, Pope Francis toured the stadium in an open-top car, greeted the eager crowd, and conducted a two-hour mass throughout which he bestowed Holy Communion to 1,400 children.
“This is a very special day,” said 10-year-old Dana Ayyash who just took her First Communion.
“I am very happy I celebrated my First Communion with Pope Francis and on Jordan’s Independence Day,” 8-year-old Maya Gammoh added.
Once the Holy Mass concluded, Pope Francis headed to the Baptism Site, at Bethany Beyond the Jordan, where he was received by King Abdullah.
Top scholars and religious and world leaders recognize Bethany beyond the Jordan as the Biblical site where John baptized Jesus Christ. Every year, around hundred thousand visitors from all different denominations and faiths make a pilgrimage to the site, where John the Baptist lived for 20 years.
During his time at Bethany beyond the Jordan, Pope Francis blessed the waters of the Jordan River and performed a pilgrimage to the River Jordan just like his predecessors.
He also held a special meeting with around 400 young Syrian and Iraqi refugees as well as children with disabilities to shed light on the plight of refugees and the vulnerable.
“Despite your difficulties in life, you are a sign of hope. You have a place in God’s heart and in my prayers. I am grateful that so many of you are here, and for your warmth and enthusiasm,” Pope Francis said as he addressed them.
His Holiness also emphasised the strain, Jordan, as a host country, is baring; urging the international community to further support it.
“I thank the Jordanian authorities and people for the generous welcome they have extended to the immense number of refugees from Syria and Iraq. I also thank all those who offer them assistance and solidarity,” Pope Francis said.
“I urge the international community not to leave Jordan alone in the task of meeting the humanitarian emergency caused by the arrival of so great a number of refugees, but to continue and even increase its support and assistance,” he added.
Jordan has maintained an open door policy to people in times of distress including Palestinians, Iraqis, and Syrians. Over the past four years over 600,000 Syrian refugees joined 700,000 Syrians already residing in Jordan, resulting in about a 20% increase in Jordan’s population.
Depending less on direct UN and other donor assistance, 83% of Syrian refugees live within local Jordanian communities, placing an enormous strain on public resources such as education, healthcare, water and energy.
Following the meeting, His Holiness Pope Francis departed to the Apostolic Nunciature, the Vatican Embassy Residence, to spend the night, amid crowds that were stationed there to greet him.
His Holiness Pope Francis departed Jordan following a timely visit covered by more than a 1,000 journalists.
He is set to continue his three-day journey in the Palestinian Territory and Israel where he will meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Prince Ghazi bin Mohammad will be joining His Holiness in Jerusalem as he tours its Muslim and Christian Holy Sites.
Prince Ghazi bin Mohammad represents His Majesty King Abdullah, who as the 41st descendant of the Prophet Mohammad (blessings and peace be upon him), is the Custodian of Holy Sites in Jerusalem. His Custodianship, recognized by both Palestinians and Israelis, gives him full rights to exert all legal efforts to safeguard and protect them.
Pope Francis leaves Jordan carrying His Majesty’s messages of peace within the Middle East. The messages are essential today, a time when injustice, sectarianism and extremism are on the rise.
“We must help Syria regain its future, end the bloodshed, and find a peaceful political solution. Your actions and support also continue to be needed to help Palestinians and Israelis resolve their long conflict. The status-quo of ‘justice denied’ to the Palestinians; fear of the other; fear of change; these re the way to mutual ruin, not mutual respect,” King Abdullah said addressing Pope Francis.
“While acknowledging with deep regret the continuing grave tensions in the Middle East, I thank the authorities of the Kingdom for all that they are doing and I encourage them to persevere in their efforts to seek lasting peace for the entire region. This great goal urgently requires that a peaceful solution be found to the crisis in Syria, as well as a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” His Holiness Pope Francis replied.
His Holiness Pope Francis and King Abdullah have met twice since the Pontiff’s election last year.
While diplomatic relations between Jordan and the Vatican officially began in 1994, they were preceded by decades of contact and diplomatic activities exemplified by Pope Paul VI’s visit to Jordan in 1964, followed by Saint Pope John Paul II’s visit in 2000, and Pope Benedict XVI’s visit in 2009.