The New York Times
Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday urged Christians in the Middle East to “have the courage” to stay faithful to their Christian roots in order to “build new bridges” to fight extremism.
A nun reached out to touch Pope Benedict XVI as he arrived to perform Sunday Mass at a stadium in Amman, Jordan.
Pope Benedict XVI greeted a crowd of the faithful at the end of his open-air mass at Amman’s international stadium on Sunday.
On the third day of his first visit to the Middle East as pope, Benedict touched on a theme of concern to the Vatican: the plight of Christians in the Middle East, whose numbers have dropped significantly in recent decades.
Celebrating Mass before 30,000 people in Amman, the pope told the faithful that staying true to their Christian roots required “the courage to build new bridges to enable a fruitful encounter of people of different religions and cultures, and thus to enrich the fabric of society.” He added that that meant “bearing witness to the love which inspires us to lay down our lives in the service of others, and thus to counter ways of thinking which justify taking innocent lives.”
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the pope’s words could be interpreted not only as a rejoinder to Islamic extremism, but also more broadly. During the Mass, Benedict also greeted a group of Iraqi Catholics living as refugees in Jordan. The Vatican estimates that some 40,000 Iraqi Catholics have fled to Jordan since the start of the Iraq war.
Blessing two churches under construction in Bethany Beyond the Jordan, the site where some say that Jesus was baptized, Benedict called on Christians to “promote dialogue and understanding in civil society, especially when claiming your legitimate rights.”
He added, “In the Middle East, marked by tragic suffering, by years of violence and unresolved tensions, Christians are called to offer their contribution, inspired by the example of Jesus, of reconciliation and peace through forgiveness and generosity.”
On Monday, Benedict is expected to travel to Israel and the Palestinian territories. He will visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, the Western Wall and the compound known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. He is also expected to visit a Palestinian refugee camp.