The Daily Star
BETHANY BEYOND THE JORDAN, Jordan: Pope Benedict on Sunday visited the site on the Jordan River where Jesus is believed to have been baptized and urged Christians in the Middle East to play a role in seeking peace. Jordan’s King Abdullah and Queen Rania met the pontiff at the spot southwest of the Jordanian capital and showed him around the archaeological site.
The pope and the royal couple rode in golf carts along the gravel paths that line the site and stopped at a pool where archaeologists have found the remains of early churches, as well as steps leading down to the water where John the Baptist carried out his ministry.
Later, the pope went to a construction site where he blessed the cornerstones of two churches to be built for pilgrims.
Several Christian denominations have planned churches there since the excavations in the 1990s discovered ruins of churches and baptismal pools dating as far back as the Fourth Century, proof that it was a pilgrimage site from early Christian times.
In his address, the pope urged the region’s Christians to promote dialogue and peace.
“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,” he said.
Earlier, the pope told a crowd in an Amman stadium that Christians should show love and service for others to counter ideologies that justify taking innocent lives.
“The Catholic community here is deeply touched by the difficulties and uncertainties which affect all the people of the Middle East,” Benedict said.
Christian communities have dwindled dramatically in recent decades in the Middle East, the cradle of the world’s largest religion, as wars, political instability and poverty have prompted many to leave for new lives abroad.
Jordan’s Christian minority numbers about 250,000 out of the mostly Muslim population of 5.6 million. Two-thirds Orthodox and one-third Catholic, it has shrunk to about 20 percent of its former size despite enjoying legal rights and official support.
“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,” said the pope on the third day of his May 8-15 pilgrimage to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Benedict told the faithful Christians were called on to help “the victims of profound human tragedies” and “build new bridges to enable a fruitful encounter of people of different religions and cultures.”
“It 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,” he said. On Monday, Benedict moves on to Israel and the Palestinian territories for the most delicate part of his trip, whose main theme so far has been Christian-Muslim relations.
In the main speech of his stay in Jordan on Saturday, he issued a call for Christian-Muslim understanding.