Shepherd One touched down at Queen Alia airport on Friday afternoon at 3:00 p.m. as Pope Benedict XVI began his visit to the Holy Land. The Holy Father emphasized that he is coming as a pilgrim and that a downward spiral into violence is not the inevitable outcome for the region.
King Abdullah II and his wife Queen Rania met Pope Benedict on the tarmac accompanied by a smartly dressed honor guard and a military band.
After receiving the Pontiff, the king delivered a speech that surveyed the history of the peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims in Jordan, and welcomed the Pope’s commitment to “dispel the misconceptions and divisions that have harmed relations between Christians and Muslims.”
The king also touched on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying, “Our shared values can make an important contribution in the Holy Land … where, together we must help lift the shadow of conflict, through a negotiated settlement, that fulfills the rights of Palestinians to freedom and statehood, and the right of Israelis to security.”
Pope Benedict then took the podium and spoke of his desire to “come to Jordan as a pilgrim, to venerate holy places that have played such an important part in some of the key events of Biblical history.”
Because of Jordan’s protection of religious freedom, the Holy Father offered his gratitude that the Catholic community can worship freely. “Religious freedom is, of course, a fundamental human right, and it is my fervent hope and prayer that respect for the inalienable rights and dignity of every man and woman will come to be increasingly affirmed and defended, not only throughout the Middle East, but in every part of the world,” he said.
The Pope also pointed out that his trip to Jordan gives him the “welcome opportunity to speak of my deep respect for the Muslim community.”
Referring to the “Amman Message,” a 2004 letter published by the king to defend the virtues of Islam, as well as the “Amman Interfaith Message,” Pope Benedict said that “these worthy initiatives have achieved much good in furthering an alliance of civilizations between the West and the Muslim world, confounding the predictions of those who consider violence and conflict inevitable.”
Benedict XVI concluded his speech by saying, “I hope very much that this visit, and indeed all the initiatives designed to foster good relations between Christians and Muslims, will help us to grow in love for the Almighty and Merciful God, and in fraternal love for one another.”
Speaking before the Pope’s arrival, Bishop Selim Sayegh, the Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Jordan, told CNA that Jordan provides “a lesson for the whole Arab world,” since here, “Christians and Muslims have lived together peacefully for seven centuries.”
Ahead of the Pope’s arrival, some Muslims spoke poorly of Benedict XVI’s visit, but Bishop Sayegh explained that he believes that “deep inside they have respect for the visit.”
As he prepared to depart for the Our Lady of Peace Center for disabled children, Pope Benedict wished the king and queen a long life, and said, “May God bless Jordan!”