Urges Them to Lay Down Lives in Service of Others
The Mass that Benedict XVI celebrated today in the Amman International Stadium turned out to be a festival of faith for Jordanian Catholicism: Some 30,000 attended the event out of an estimated 109,000 Catholics in the nation.

The Pope exhorted the Middle Eastern Christians to stay in the Holy Land and give testimony to Jesus in this region so plagued by conflict. The Jordanian government decreed that today would be a vacation day for Christians — normally Sunday is a workday in Jordan — and stores and businesses followed suit.

“Fidelity to your Christian roots, fidelity to the Church’s mission in the Holy Land, demands of each of you a particular kind of courage: the courage of conviction, born of personal faith, not mere social convention or family tradition; the courage to engage in dialogue and to work side by side with other Christians in the service of the Gospel and solidarity with the poor, the displaced, and the victims of profound human tragedies; 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,” the Holy Father acknowledged.

And, he said, fidelity for Middle Eastern Christians also means “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 Mass was the largest celebration planned for Benedict XVI’s days in Jordan, where he arrived last Friday. A large image of Christ, the Good Shepherd, presided over the site, since the Eastern Church is celebrating the 4th Week of Easter and Good Shepherd Sunday. (They marked Easter one week later than in the West). An image of Mary and John the Baptist, patron of Jordan, also adorned the sanctuary.

Vocations crisis

Benedict XVI was welcomed by one of Jordan’s native sons, Archbishop Fouad Twal, patriarch of Jerusalem. The prelate offered the Pope the “Arabic and Jordan hospitality,” but jokingly warned him that the Church there is passing through a “vocations crisis.” There are too many seminarians for our resources, the archbishop said, and we are having to find other places to house them.

Archbishop Twal also spoke of the challenge this local Church is facing as it takes in refugees from Iraq. More than 1 million Iraqis have fled to neighboring Jordan, an estimated 40,000 Christians among them. The Church and the local Caritas organizations are supporting the refugees not only spiritually but also materially.

Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, patriarch of Baghdad, was among those present.

The Eucharistic celebration culminated with 40 Jordanian children receiving their first Communion.

On Monday, the Pope will leave Jordan, receiving an official good-bye from King Abdullah at the airport, in a gesture of warmth that breaks protocol. Shortly thereafter, the Pontiff will be welcomed in Israel by President Shimon Peres and other representatives of the Israeli government.