Tag Archives: Jordan

Pilgrim of peace

18 May

MAY 18, 2009 — Pope Benedict XVI stepped into the fray of Middle East politics by endorsing a Palestinian state during his recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

During his May 15 farewell speech at the Tel Aviv airport, the Pope stressed the need for universal recognition of Israel’s right to exist and the Palestinians’ “right to a sovereign independent homeland.

“Let the two-state solution become a reality,” the Holy Father said, noting that six decades of bloodshed in the Holy Land has distressed him.

“No more bloodshed! No more fighting! No more terrorism! No more war!” he pleaded. “Instead, let us break the vicious circle of violence. Let there be lasting peace based on justice; let there be genuine reconciliation and healing.”

A model for peace

The impassioned speech was one of the many highlights of Pope Benedict’s May 8-15 pilgrimage to the Holy Land, which began with a four-day stop in Jordan. In many ways, his visit mirrored that of Pope John Paul II, who visited Jordan and Israel in 2000.

Pope Benedict began his journey with a stop at Jordan’s Mount Nebo, where tradition says Moses gazed out upon the Promised Land before his death.

“It is appropriate that my pilgrimage should begin on this mountain.” This holy place, he said, should remind all Christians to “undertake a daily exodus from sin and slavery to life and freedom.”

The Pope visited a mosque in the Jordanian capital of Amman before participating in vespers at St. George Melkite Cathedral. It was inspiring to see the Jordanian Christians’ affection for the Holy Father. They shouted, waved flags and sang when he entered the cathedral. The applause was almost deafening.

More than 30% of Jordan’s 109,000 Catholics piled into Amman International Stadium on May 10 for the papal Mass. The youth presence was impressive. Thousands of young people cheered and sang long before the Holy Father’s arrival. A song written especially for the papal visit — “Benvenuto Benedetto in Jordania” (Welcome to Jordan, Benedict in Italian) — rang through the crowd dozens of times throughout the morning.

In his homily, the Pope exhorted the Middle Eastern Christians to stay in the Holy Land and give testimony to Jesus in this conflict-plagued region.

“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.”

In his farewell address in Amman on May 11, the Holy Father hailed Jordan as a model for peace and religious tolerance in the Middle East.

“I would like to encourage all Jordanians, whether Christian or Muslim, to build on the firm foundations of religious tolerance that enable the members of different communities to live together in peace and mutual respect,” he said.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II has gone to great lengths to foster interreligious dialogue, the Pope said. “This spirit of openness … has contributed to Jordan’s far-sighted political initiatives to build peace throughout the Middle East.”

Two-state solution

The Holy Father wasted no time getting down to business after touching down in Israel. He called for a Palestinian state in his first speech. He went on to meet with other religious leaders, visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and celebrate Mass in Nazareth for about 50,000 pilgrims.

Together with Israeli president Shimon Peres, the Pope planted an olive tree at the presidential palace as a sign of the close relationship between Jews and Christians. He called this gesture, along with meeting with Holocaust survivors at the Yad Vashem memorial, the most memorable of his pilgrimage to Israel.

“So many Jews … were brutally exterminated under a godless regime that propagated an ideology of anti-Semitism and hatred,” he said. “That appalling chapter of history must never be forgotten or denied.”

The Holy Father also met with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in the Palestinian territories. He called the security wall separating Palestinians from Israelis “one of the saddest sights for me during my visit to these lands.” Acknowledging how hard it will be to achieve lasting peace, the Pope said said he had prayed “for a future in which the peoples of the Holy Land can live together in peace and harmony without the need for such instruments of security and separation.”

Patrick Novecosky is the editor of Legatus Magazine and the founder of The Praetorium. This article was published in the June 2009 issue of Legatus Magazine. He was in Jordan for Pope Benedict’s four-day visit to that country.

The Dead Sea, the Red Sea & the desert

14 May

MAY 14, 2009 — After spending the last three days in the rugged Jordanian outback, one thing is clear: My people (fair skinned Germanic types) were not made for the desert. Even though I live in Florida where the sun can bake anyone to a crisp, the hot, dry desert is no place for blondes … unless you’re T.E. Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia). But even he went home eventually.

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll note that Pope Benedict left for Israel on Monday. I stayed behind to continue a press tour of Jordan sponsored by the Jordanian Tourism Board (JTB), accompanied by a four other American journalists, a JPB rep, and a local guide (Ibrahim) who could easily be mistaken for a wise-cracking American. He says he once lived in Pittsburgh, but who’s to know for sure.

Monday, May 11

Our local guides at Ajloun

Our local guides at Ajloun

After the Pope’s departure early this morning, we headed north to Ajloun . We visited a local business run by local women which produces hand-made high end soaps before setting out to explore more rugged terrain.

Monk caves near Ajloun, Jordan

Monk caves near Ajloun, Jordan

We saw caves once occupied by monks, the ruins of a 6th century church dedicated to the Old Testament prophet Elijah. It was in ruins, but contained an empty underground crypt and some newly discovered mosaics that had been hidden for centuries.

Arab entertainers at the Jerash Roman ruins

Arab entertainers at the Jerash Roman ruins

We stopped for lunch in Jerash — a city which boasts an unbroken chain of human occupation dating back more than 6,500 years.

The ampitheater, Jerash ruins

The amphitheater, Jerash ruins

According to Ibrahim, our sagacious guide, it contains the best preserved Roman ruins outside of Rome itself. After spending a couple hours exploring the fallen city, I think I believe him.

Before going to bed, I did a quick calculation and figured out that it was about 10 am back in Saskatchewan, so I called my Dad to wish him a happy 72nd birthday. He was surprised to hear from me. Thankfully, I was able to call via the Internet using a headset for only 2.1 cents/minute. Skype rocks!

Tuesday, May 12

Early this morning, we checked out of the hotel in Amman and drove down. Literally. By mid-morning, we were at the Dead Sea, elevation nearly 1,400 feet below sea level. It’s the lowest spot on earth (with air, of course). At 1,240 ft deep, it’s the deepest hypersaline lake in the world. JTB arranged for us to take use the luxurious facilities at the Mövenpick — one of the high-end resorts on the Jordanian side of the Sea.

A few of us wandered down to the beach to check out the salty waters and the world-famous Dead Sea mud, which is apparently pure gold for your skin. Black gold, that is. My official photographer, Greg Tarczynski, has some pictures of me covered in the stuff. I’ll post them soon, so come back to this entry in a week or so. We packed up after lunch and drove a few hours south to the Red Sea port of Aqaba before the sun set on another beautiful day in Jordan.

Wednesday, May 13

The Treasury, Petra

The Treasury, Petra

The Treasury, Petra

The Treasury, Petra

The most physically challenging day of our tour began at the 1st century BC city of Petra, about 75 miles northeast of Aqaba. It’s a vast, unique city, carved into the sheer rock face by the Nabataeans, an industrious Arab people who settled here more than 2,000 years ago, turning it into an important junction for the silk, spice, and other trade routes that linked China, India, and southern Arabia with Egypt, Syria, Greece, and Rome.

I took a lot of pictures, but they don’t do the site justice. Among the most impressive was The Treasury, which was featured in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. At 100 ft wide and 145 ft high, it dwarfs everything around it. Called Al Khazneh by the Arabs, it was carved in the early 1st century as the tomb of an important Nabataean king.

At the Treasury, Petra, attempting to be Solomon

At the Treasury, Petra, attempting to be Solomon

The next adventure on the trail was not for the faint of heart or weary of feet. Petra’s largest monument (165 ft high and 150 ft wide), the Monastery or Ad-Deir in Arabic is an hour’s hike (800-900 steps) up a rugged trail covered with loose rock. It sits 3,750 above sea level. The climb was worth it. Dating from the 1st century BC, it was most likely a Nabataean temple. However, apparently Christian monks lived there during the Roman era.

The massive "Monastery" is impressive at 3,750 above sea level

The massive "Monastery" is impressive at 3,750 above sea level

Atop a cliff overlooking The Monastery, Petra

Atop a cliff overlooking The Monastery, Petra

We weary hikers felt like we were on a movie set all day. In the afternoon, we shifted from Indiana Jones to the Lawrence of Arabia. Jordan’s most famous desert, Wadi Rum, was the setting for the classic 1962 Lawrence Oliver movie about T.E. Lawrence who called the area “vast, echoing and god-like.” The name means high (rum) valley (wadi).

The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Wadi Rum

The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Wadi Rum

Our intepid group loaded onto the back of a canopy-covered 4X4 pickup truck and headed out from the visitors center to the desert. A convoy of 1970s and ’80s modified 4X4s followed with dozens of tourists to explore the expansive sea of rocky peaks. Wadi Rum is a maze of rock formations and hills that rise up from the desert floor up to 5,800 ft. One of the most impressive is called The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

At a bedouin camp, Wadi Rum

At a bedouin camp, Wadi Rum

I purchased a keffiyeh — official Arabic headgear — a black and white scarf which, when properly tied, protects your head, neck, and face from sun and sand. While it’s not approved for use in banks or airports, it sure did the trick for me with the wind and sand blowing on us as we drove through the desert.

We stopped at a bedouin (nomad) rest stop in the desert where they had various items for sale. In a separate tent, they offered free sweet hot tea. A couple men played a cool-sounding instrument. Check out the photo, and if you know what it’s called, let me know. One of our crew, Julie Rattey from Catholic Digest, bravely climbed aboard a camel. I was too busy with the tea and petroglyphs 100 yards away to take a turn.

Our ride, Wadi Rum

Our ride, Wadi Rum

We parked just a stone’s throw from a dry lakebed and a bedouin camp where some many tourists camped for the night.

The sun sets at Wadi Rum

The sun sets at Wadi Rum

By the time the sun was ready to drop over the horizon, about 50 people were watching in awe as it dropped below the horizon around 7:30 pm. The reddish orange glow in the sky almost matched my reddened cheeks and fried nose as another blessed day drew to a close in Jordan.

Thursday, May 14

After a grueling, sun-drenched day in the desert, it was time for a leisurely day … on the water. We joined a crew of about 20 Brazilian-Peruvian journalists who were on another JTB press tour. Most of them had also covered the papal visit to Jordan and had morphed into travel journalists … like yours truly.

We boarded a glass-bottomed boat and pushed off into the Gulf of Aqaba on the Red Sea around 11:30 am. Within 30 minutes, we were sitting over blue, yellow and reddish coral (from which the Red Sea gets its name). Five minutes later, we floated over a shipwreck which had sprouted coral and other sea life. Small fish swam along under us. Apparently there are few large sea creatures in the Gulf of Aqaba. From our furthest point out, we could see four countries — Jordan, Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. I felt like a world traveler just sitting there out in the Gulf!

A few Brazilians rented scuba equipment and a dozen of us jumped in for a little snorkeling in the frigid water. The crew put out a spread of salads, hummus, and grilled chicken kebabs and sausage kebabs. We docked and by mid-afternoon, we were on terra firma once again. It’s a rough life. Perhaps one day I will also convert into a travel journalist … but only if I can take my wife and kids with me!

Patrick Novecosky is the founder and editor of The Praetorium.

The papal drive-by

12 May
The site on the Jordan where Christ was baptized. (Patrick Novecosky photo)

The site on the Jordan where Christ was baptized. (Patrick Novecosky photo)

MAY 12, 2009 — As the pea gravel crunched beneath my feet, I couldn’t help but think of the Last Supper where Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. The chalky dust not only covered my shoes, but permeated the air as we walked the path to the spot where tradition says Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River.

Just an hour outside of Amman, Jordan, we were about two hours ahead of Pope Benedict’s arrival at the site, part of his four-day visit to the country. It was mid-afternoon on Sunday as our bus dropped off the crush of media covering the Pope’s visit to the Holy Land. Photographers and reporters from around the world were packed into three buses on this hot and dry day. Site staff gave us the option of waiting for the Pope in the parking lot where he would be greeted by Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Queen Rania — or we could walk a quarter mile down the pea gravel path to the Baptism Site. Most everyone chose the latter.

Waiting for the Pope at the baptism site.

Waiting for the Pope at the baptism site.

Dozens of us scoped out the best vantage point to view (and photograph) the Holy Father, who was to stop at a platform overlooking the spot designated as the place where John the Baptist christened Our Lord in the muddy waters of the Jordan. It wasn’t impressive. Scraggly bushes surrounded the area which seemed to be fed by a tributary from the river itself. However, archeological experts have determined that early Christians built a church to commemorate the spot as the place of Christ’s baptism. When the area flooded, they came back and built again. That resolve has convinced many that this was the biblical site of Bethany Beyond the Jordan described in John 1:28 and John 10:40.

The Holy Father with the King and Queen of Jordan. (Patrick Novecosky photo)

The Holy Father with the King and Queen of Jordan. (Patrick Novecosky photo)

I found a perfect spot to await the Holy Father, only 20 feet from the platform. After chatting with colleagues for about 90 minutes, a convoy of eight-passenger golf carts arrived with security personnel, followed by the Holy Father, the King, Queen, Prince Ghazi among others. The Holy Father’s vehicle stopped for five minutes as a site expert described the scene for the Pope. But rather than disembarking to take in the site from the viewing platform as planned, the papal cart spend on down the path to an awaiting crowd of about 800 pilgrims.

Greg Tarczynski, a well-known photographer for Catholic and other media outlets, had parked himself on the muddy river bank for nearly two hours to get a picture that was not to be. We all scrambled down the path to the stage where the Pope was to bless the cornerstones for two churches planned for the Baptism site — a Latin-rite church already under construction and a Melkite house of worship. However, the military security (who seem just as confused by the papal entourage’s change of plans) held us back. We found out later that we were detained until the royal entourage could leave the area.

The papal entourage.  (Patrick Novecosky photo)

The papal entourage. (Patrick Novecosky photo)

We got to the platform just as the ceremony got under way. I stood on a chair as close as possible to the stage and got a descent shot of the Pope blessing the cornerstones. After the papal convoy departed, we were blessed with an incredible view of the sun setting in the west, finally dipping below the horizon in the land where Jesus walked. A fitting end to a day I won’t soon forget.

Pope Benedict blesses two cornerstones.  (Patrick Novecosky photo)

Pope Benedict blesses two cornerstones. (Patrick Novecosky photo)

Kresta in the Afternoon

11 May

MAY 11, 2009 — I had the honor of being the final guest on Kresta in the Afternoon this afternoon live (via Skype) from Amman, Jordan. The daily program is produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard around the world on EWTN Radio and Sirius/XM Satellite Radio.

Host Al Kresta asked me about my time traveling with Pope Benedict XVI during his pastoral visit to Jordan. My four blog posts (1, 2, 3, 4) about the visit have been read by people from around the world. Al asked me about how well the Pope’s visit has been received among the predominantly Muslim nation. We also talked about the cultural differences between Jordan and the United States.

Click here to listen. (Opens in new window. 11:47 minutes).

The Good Shepherd

11 May

MAY 11, 2009 — It’s amazing to think that in a country with only 109,000 Catholics, nearly a third of them piled into Amman’s International Stadium on Sunday for an open-air papal Mass. After departing the media center at 6:00 am, I expected the horde of media (yours truly among them) would be among the first to arrive, but a few hundred hearty souls were already in the stands when we pulled shortly after 6:30.

Thousands await Pope Benedict XVI at Amman International Stadium on Sunday, May 10. (Patrick Novecosky photo)

Thousands await Pope Benedict XVI at Amman International Stadium on Sunday, May 10. (Patrick Novecosky photo)

I spent a few hours talking to media from around the world, my colleagues from America, and a few Jordanians. Organizers had tapped the Jordanian Scouts and Girl Guides to help with logistics and crowd control. At least 100 teens dressed in their blue uniforms answered pilgrims’ questions and helped form a human barrier between the congregation and the yellow and white sanctuary on the east side of the stadium. The youth presence at the Mass was impressive. Hundreds of young people cheered and sang long before the Holy Father’s arrival. A song written especially for the papal visit — “Benvenuto Benedetto” (Welcome, Benedict in Italian) — rang through the crowd dozens of times throughout the morning.

Pope Benedict XVI enters Amman International Stadium in the Popemobile on Sunday, May 10. (Patrick Novecosky photo)

Pope Benedict XVI enters Amman International Stadium in the Popemobile on Sunday, May 10. (Patrick Novecosky photo)

True to form, the Holy Father arrived in the Popemobile punctually around 9:30, circling the stadium to the roar of about 30,000 enthusiastic souls. The yellow and white themed sanctuary was decorated with a large image of Christ, the Good Shepherd, because the Eastern Church was celebrating the fourth 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.

Jordanian-born Archbishop Fouad Twal, patriarch of Jerusalem, warmly welcomed the Pope in English. He joked that the Church in Jordan is having a “vocations crisis” because its seminary is bursting at the seams and is struggling to find housing for the men eager to enter the priesthood.

Pope Benedict XVI processes to the altar at the beginning of an open air Mass at Amman International Stadium on Sunday, May 10. (Patrick Novecosky photo)

Pope Benedict XVI processes to the altar at the beginning of an open air Mass at Amman International Stadium on Sunday, May 10. (Patrick Novecosky photo)

In his homily, 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.

“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,” he said.

An Iraqi Chaldean Catholic girl awaits her first Holy Communion from Pope Benedict XVI at Amman International Stadium on Sunday, May 10. (Patrick Novecosky photo)

An Iraqi Chaldean Catholic girl awaits her first Holy Communion from Pope Benedict XVI at Amman International Stadium on Sunday, May 10. (Patrick Novecosky photo)

The Mass concluded with 40 Iraqi Chaldean children receiving their first Holy Communion. Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, patriarch of Baghdad, was among the dozens of priests and bishops concelebrating with the Holy Father.

After Mass, I talked to an American journalist who writes for the Jordan Times. The reporter was impressed with the high energy of the Mass — a rarity in this predominantly Muslim country. It was truly a celebration of Jordanian Catholicism, leaving enduring memories for thousands of the country’s faithful.

The promised land

9 May

MAY 9, 2009 — Moses wandered in the desert for 40 years before he saw the Promised Land. It took me almost 41. But my wanderings haven’t all been in the desert. Earlier today, about 150 people — media, guests, and clergy — gathered atop Jordan’s Mt. Nebo where Moses gazed out upon the Dead See and the land God had promised. As we waited for Pope Benedict to arrive, I looked out upon the land below and imagined what Moses felt after completing his earthly journey knowing that God had been faithful to his promise.

The media and honored guests waited in the ruins of a 6th-century church honoring Moses. It had replaced a 4th century church. When John Paul II visited Mt. Nebo in 2000, the church had a temporary roof and was functioning. Today, the roof and most of the support structure had been removed for a substantial restoration effort. The media perched upon dusty ancient walls and scrambled for the best vantage point to view the Holy Father give his speech.

Pope Benedict prepares to address pilgrims and media atop Jordan's Mt Nebo

Pope Benedict prepares to address pilgrims and media atop Jordan's Mt Nebo

When Pope Benedict arrived, shortly after 9 am, he was greeted with sustained applause. The brief service included a reading from Deuteronomy, recalling how Moses had seen the promised land, died, and was buried on the very mountain were on — 700 meters above the plain below.

The Holy Father said, “It is appropriate that my pilgrimage should begin on this mountain.” This holy place, he said, should remind all Christians to “undertake a daily exodus from sin and slavery to life and freedom.

“The magnificent prospect which opens up from the esplanade of this shrine invites us to ponder how that prophetic vision mysteriously embraced the great plan of salvation which God prepared for his people,” he said.

“Like Moses, we too have been called by name, invited to undertake a daily exodus from sin and slavery towards life and freedom, and given an unshakeable promise to guide our journey. In the waters of Baptism, we have passed from the slavery of sin to new life and hope.”

Pope Benedict gazes upon "the promised land" where Moses once stood atop Jordan's Mt Nebo

Pope Benedict gazes upon "the promised land" where Moses once stood atop Jordan's Mt Nebo

The Holy Father then walked 100 yards to a viewing platform and spent five minutes taking in view of the land bordering Israel, under the towering Brazen Serpent sculpture by Italian artist Giovanni Fantoni, before departing in the Popemobile.

After the Pope departed, I took my turn at the platform. I’ll post a photo when I have a few more minutes. Needless to say, the view is spectacular. Despite the years that have passed since Moses stood here, only one winding road has marred the landscape. Otherwise, it must have looked much as it does today. I’m confident that Moses left this spot confident that God had indeed been faithful and kept his promise. I couldn’t help but do the same.

…..

On Saturday afternoon, about 60 journalists boarded buses to St. George Melkite Cathedral in Amman. After waiting for about 90 minutes, the Holy Father arrived around 5:30 pm for a vespers service. From my perch in the choir loft, we had a phenomenal view of the fervent crowd of about 400 Greek Catholics gathered for the event. They greeted the Pope with incredible enthusiasm, testing the security details ability to keep him from being mobbed.

Pope Benedict prepares to address the faithful at St. George Melkite Cathedral in Amman, Jordan, on May 9.

Pope Benedict prepares to address the faithful at St. George Melkite Cathedral in Amman, Jordan, on May 9.

The hour-long service included heavenly music from several choirs who chanted and sang in Latin, Greek, and Arabic. The dignitaries included members of the Roman Curia — Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Cardinal John Foley — and Orthodox Archbishop Benediktos Tsikoras as well leaders of a string of Eastern churches in union with Rome.

The Holy Father expressed his sincere thanks for the “opportunity to pray with you and to experience something of the richness of our liturgical traditions.”

“The Church herself is a pilgrim people and thus, through the centuries, has been marked by determinant historical events and pervading cultural epochs,” the Pope remarked. “Sadly, some of these have included times of theological dispute or periods of repression.”

“Others, however, have been moments of reconciliation — marvelously strengthening the communion of the Church — and times of rich cultural revival, to which Eastern Christians have contributed so greatly,” he continued.

Pope Benedict blesses the faithful gathered for vespers at St. George Melkite Cathedral in Amman, Jordan, on May 9.

Pope Benedict blesses the faithful gathered for vespers at St. George Melkite Cathedral in Amman, Jordan, on May 9.

“Particular Churches,” the Pope explained, “within the universal Church attest to the dynamism of her earthly journey and manifest to all members of the faithful a treasure of spiritual, liturgical, and ecclesiastical traditions which point to God’s universal goodness and his will, seen throughout history, to draw all into his divine life.”

As he left the cathedral, the devoted pilgrims again tested security in what, at times, seemed like a bit of a shoving match. However, the Pope seemed unfazed by the adulation as he beamed with joy and stretched to touch as many as he could. His Sunday Mass at Amman’s largest stadium will give even more of the faithful the opportunity to see the Pilgrim Pope.

On the ground in Jordan

7 May

MAY 7, 2009 — After months of planning and anticipation, I’m sitting on Royal Jordanian Flight 264, a direct flight from Chicago to Amman, Jordan.

This will be a short post because I’m tapping this out on my iPhone. In 12 hours, we will land 6,228 miles from home! What an adventure.

The Pope will be in the air to Jordan before we land … and he will land before we do. Time to fly!

…..

After a pleasant flight of limited sleep while cruising at 41,000 feet, I noticed the monitor said it was -83C outside. I pulled the blanket up over my head and was thankful for the airplane’s heating system. Before long it was morning… if you can call it that. We left Chicago at 9 pm, which was the middle of the night in Jordan. So morning was morning… but not really. The airplane breakfast cart came by with something that resembled (but didn’t taste like) breakfast at about 2 pm Jordan time, which stuck me as odd. However, the thought passed quickly.

By 4:30 pm, we were safely on the ground, briskly passing through security thanks to our hosts, the good folks at the JTB (Jordanian Tourism Bureau). I’m keeping company with four other U.S. journalists as part of this press tour. We joined a larger entourage of media from around the world at the Jordanian Cultural Center in downtown Amman at around 6:30 pm. After a press briefing in Arabic (I understood the Arabic words for “Pope” and “Roman Catholic”). Other than that, nada.

However, our group snagged a 10-minute audience with the spokesman for the Catholic Church in Jordan, Fr. Rifat Bader. He repeated the reason for the Holy Father’s pastoral visit: peace. “The Pope is coming to encourage pacemakers, peace-dreamers and all citizens of the Middle East,” he said.

Father Bader mentioned that the Holy Father broke protocol this afternoon in front of the Regina Pacis (Queen of Peace) Center this afternoon. He made a slight detour from the schedule to greet the young people who had been waiting for hours for the Pope’s arrival. “These are the future of the Church,” Fr. Bader said of the young people.

We then met with Islamic scholar Dr. Sheik Hamdi Murad who gave us a Muslim perspective on the papal visit. He was excited that the Holy Father was in town. He said the meeting between Jordan’s King Abdullah II and the Pope Benedict this morning “wasn’t a national event, but an important international event between Christians and Muslims.” He saw it as a historical meeting between two men of faith. The Sheik said that the tensions between the Pope and Muslims created by the Pope’s address in Regensburg, Germany, almost three years ago is in the past. “The page has turned,” he explained.

Jordan has about 200,000 Christians (4% of the population), half of whom are Catholic. Pope Benedict is the third pope to visit Jordan. Pope Paul was the first, visiting in 1964. John Paul II made his historic visit in 2000. I expect to see the fruit of these visits in the days and years to come.