Pope opens trip to Holy Land with appeal for religious freedom, peace
Pope Francis gives the Wednesday general audience in St. Peter's Square on Jan. 8, 2014. Credit: Kyle Burkhart / CNA.
Pope Francis gives the Wednesday general audience in St. Peter's Square on Jan. 8, 2014. Credit: Kyle Burkhart / CNA.
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.- Today Pope Francis began his pilgrimage to the Holy Land by visiting with the authorities in the kingdom of Jordan, urging them to support efforts for peace amongst Christians and Muslims.

“Religious freedom is in fact a fundamental human right and I cannot fail to express my hope that it will be upheld throughout the Middle East and the entire world,” said Pope Francis on May 24 in the Royal Palace of Amman, Jordan.

Pope Francis urged the people of different religions to live together peaceably, noting, “Christians consider themselves, and indeed are, full citizens, and as such they seek, together with their Muslim fellow citizens, to make their own particular contribution to the society in which they live.”

Before the Holy Father delivered his remarks this afternoon, King Abdullah II welcomed the Pope to Jordan and spoke of his hopes for continuing improved relations between Muslims and Christians. The King noted Pope Francis’ call for “dialogue” as an inspiration, saying, “you have become a conscience for the whole world.”

Pope Francis responded by reiterating his “profound respect and esteem for the Muslim community,” as well as for King Abdullah II “in promoting a better understanding of the virtues taught by Islam and a climate of serene coexistence between the faithful of the different religions.” Departing from his prepared remarks, the Pope referred to King Abdullah as “a peacemaker.”

The Pontiff expressed his gratitude for the welcome in such a significant place, greeting “the members of the Royal Family, the government and the people of Jordan, this land so rich in history and with such great religious significance for Judaism, Christianity and Islam.”

Pope Francis then spoke gratefully of Jordan’s welcoming of Palestinian, Iraqi, and Syrian refugees, noting that “such generosity merits the appreciation and support of the international community.”

“While acknowledging with deep regret the continuing grave tensions in the Middle East,” he continued, “I thank the authorities of the Kingdom for all that they are doing and I encourage them to persevere in their efforts to seek lasting peace for the entire region.”

Pope Francis urged the authorities to work towards “a peaceful solution” to “the crisis in Syria” and “a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The Holy Father also offered his “affectionate greeting” to the “Christian communities present in this country since apostolic times.”

Although Christians are a minority, he acknowledged, they contribute “to the common good of the society of which they are a part.”

He concluded his remarks by praying that his visit “will help to advance and strengthen good and cordial relations between Christians and Muslims.”

The Pope’s three-day visit to various places in the middle east comprises his first pilgrimage to the Holy Land. His itinerary includes not only Amman in the Kingdom of Jordan, but also Bethlehem, Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem, where he will meet with various political and religious leaders.

Pope Francis will be taking time to pray at different churches and sacred sites throughout his pilgrimage.

During his flight from Rome to Amman this morning, the Pope sent telegrams to the Presidents of Italy, Greece, Cyprus, and Israel, assuring them of his best wishes and prayers during the flight.  After landing at the Queen Alia airport in Amman, the Pontiff was welcomed by representatives from the King and Queen of Amman, Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, and several other leaders.


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