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JERUSALEM (RNS) Pope Benedict XVI praised Jordan’s peace and interfaith efforts when he touched down in the Muslim country on Friday (May 8), the first day of his week-long Holy Land pilgrimage.
King Abdullah II of Jordan and his wife, Queen Rania, greeted the Catholic leader at the airport, where Benedict related his “deep respect for the Muslim community.”
The pope called Jordan’s interfaith efforts “worthy initiatives (that) have achieved much good to further an alliance … between the West and the Muslim world.” This work is “confounding the predictions of those who consider violence and conflict inevitable,” the pontiff said.
Abdullah noted that “voices of provocation, ambitious ideologies of division, threaten unspeakable suffering. We must reject such a course for our world’s future. Here and now we must create a new and global dialogue, of understanding and good will.”
The pilgrimage — only the third official Holy Land visit by a pope– will also take the pope to Israel and the Palestinian-ruled West Bank, where he will visit sites holy to Christians, Muslims and Jews, and meet with leading government and religious leaders.
During his three-day stay in Jordan, the pope will visit Mt. Nebo, where Moses looked out toward the Promised Land he was never allowed to enter, and Jesus’ baptism site on the Jordan River. He will also meet Muslim leaders at the Mosque of al-Hussein bin Talal, the largest mosque in Jordan.
Perhaps most significantly for local Christians, Benedict will bless the cornerstone of a new Catholic cathedral — a gesture of solidarity toward the demographically vulnerable Christianity community. As elsewhere in the Middle East, the number of Christians in Jordan has dwindled in recent years. An estimated 200,000 Christians live in the arid kingdom, about half of them Catholics.
By Michele Chabin
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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