Pope Benedict XVI led a mass at the Amman International Stadium on Sunday, celebrating the World Day of Prayer for Vocations in the final gathering of the faithful during the papal pilgrimage to Jordan.
Latin Patriarch of Jordan and Jerusalem Fouad Twal welcomed the Pope, calling him the successor of Saint Peter.
“We dearly welcome you as the successor of St. Peter, commissioned by the Lord to strengthen your brothers in faith and we look up at you… firmly believing this visit will confirm us in faith,” Twal said, addressing the Pope.
The mass attracted more than 18,000 people who came from all parts of the world including Jordan, Argentina, Iraq, Lebanon, Germany and Syria.
The crowd applauded, cheered and swayed towards the Pope as he entered the stadium in his Popemobile, slowly blessing the vast gathering as he passed.
The Pontiff started the celebration saying in Arabic “Al salam maakum [Peace be with you].” “I have long awaited this opportunity to stand before you as a witness to the risen Saviour and to encourage you to persevere in faith, hope and love and in fidelity to the ancient traditions and the distinguished history which you trace back to the age of apostles,” the Pope said.
The crowds assembled in anticipation of the Pontiff’s arrival early in the morning, and practised the welcome song designed specially for Pope Benedict XVI.
The lyrics of the song went: “With a new heart and spirit we cheer and welcome Pope Benedict. Madaba, Amman and the Baptism Site renew their faith and loyalty for the love of God and the Kingdom. We are all for peace and coexistence and the uplifting of humanity.”
American-Egyptian Catholic Denan Khayatt celebrated the Mass with the rest of the gathering.
Denan, married to a Jordanian Muslim, said that as she grew up, she was taught to be respectful to all people and religions.
“We [she and her husband] respect each others’ beliefs,” she told The Jordan Times.
Commenting on the celebration, a freelance consultant and mother of a two-year-old girl said that this was a unique opportunity to attend the Mass. “It is a lifetime experience,” she said.
Among the gathering were Catholic ordinaries of the Holy Land, cardinals, patriarchs, bishops, nuns, and Catholic clergy from the Middle East and world countries.
In attendance was Sister Maria de Anims from the Institute of the Incarnate Word in Holland, who described the event as “historic”.
She added that His Holiness is like a father and shepherd who has come to this part of the world to look after his sheep. “You can feel that he wants to be with the small flock,” she said.
The Pope’s message is one of unity, peace and love, she said.
An important aspect of the Mass was the communion of more than 400 children from Latin schools around the Kingdom.
“My greetings also go out to the many young people from Catholic schools who today bring their enthusiasm to this Eucharistic celebration,” said the Pope.
Ambassador of the Republic of Korea Bongkil Shin and his wife Meesook were among the many diplomats attending the Mass.
“It is a wonderful idea to have an open Mass in the heart of Amman,” Meesook told the Jordan Times, adding that the celebration highlights efforts to bring Islam and Christianity together in peace.
The ambassador said that Jordan is unique in many ways, especially in being a country that respects and safeguards religious freedom.
“Thank God I am a Jordanian Christian,” said Aida Al Marzook, originally from Madaba. The mother of three said His Holiness’ visit helps spread love between Muslims and Christians in Jordan.
Hanna Nassar travelled from Syria to see the Pope, with a group of 15 people.
“We were the first in the stadium, we were here as early as 5:30am,” he said. The group visited Petra, Jerash and the Dead Sea. According to the religious tourists, the highlight of their stay in the Kingdom was the warm welcome they received everywhere as they toured the historical and religious sites.
In his speech, Pope Benedict spoke of the God-given dignity and role of women which has not always been understood. He underlined the fact that women are the bearers of love, teachers of mercy and artisans of peace but the world often judges the value of a person by the cold criteria of utility and profit.
“By its public witness of respect for women and its defence of the innate dignity of every human being, the Church in the Holy Land can make an important contribution to the advancement of a culture of true humanity and the building of the civilisation of love,” he added.