Starts Mideast Trip Reiterating He’s Come as a Pilgrim
Benedict XVI praised a climate of religious freedom in Jordan that is enabling Christians to build a church at the site where tradition holds that Jesus was baptized.


The Pope expressed this today when he arrived in Jordan for the first leg of his weeklong Holy Land pilgrimage. He was greeted at the Queen Alia di Amman airport by the king and queen of Jordan, Abdullah II and Rania.”I come to Jordan as a pilgrim,” the Holy Father affirmed, “to venerate holy places that have played such an important part in some of the key events of Biblical history.”The Pontiff will visit Mount Nebo, where Moses led the Israelites to within sight of the Promised Land, and Bethany, where John the Baptist preached about Jesus and baptized him in the River Jordan.Muslim relationsIn his first discourse of his Middle East trip, Benedict XVI expressed his “deep respect for the Muslim community.” And he praised King Abdullah II for efforts in “promoting a better understanding of the virtues proclaimed by Islam.”Referring to the king’s “Amman Message” and “Amman Interfaith Message,” the Pope 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.”He also lauded Jordan for supporting efforts to finding a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and for accepting refugees from Iraq.Regarding religious freedom in Jordan, which the Pope said is characterized by the “opportunity that Jordan’s Catholic community enjoys to build public places of worship,” the Holy Father reminded that it is a “fundamental human right.”He said that it is his “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.”Jordan is only about 6% Christian, and the majority of those are Greek Orthodox. The Sunni Muslim population of the nation is about 92%.Benedict XVI concluded expressing his hope that his pilgrimage, “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.”For his part, King Abdullah told the Pope, “We welcome your commitment to dispel the misconceptions and divisions that have harmed relations between Christians and Muslims.”