AMMAN, Jordan, March 20 (RNS)--Pope John Paul II began his long-anticipated pilgrimage to the Holy Land Monday with an appeal for peace and a visit in the footsteps of Moses to the biblical site of Mount Nebo.

The 79-year-old pontiff, his movements made laborious by Parkinson's disease, slowly climbed to a lookout point on Mount Nebo to see a broad panorama of rolling hills--the Old Testament's Promised Land that Moses had seen but was not allowed to enter before his death. Towering above the site was the messianic symbol of a bronze serpent twined around a cross.

The Rev. Michele Piccirillo, a Franciscan monk who is an expert on the site and the 4th century Monastery of Mount Nebro, built over a still earlier monastery, acted as the pope's guide. The monastery has been in the hands of the Franciscan custodians of the Holy Land since 1933.

The pope listened in silence, his eyes sweeping the vista, and crossed himself before he descended.

Inside the monastery, Piccirillo showed John Paul precious 4th century mosaics on chapel floors. Because they depicted flora and fauna they escaped destruction during the iconoclastic period of the 8th and 9th centuries when many in the church rejected the veneration of sacred images as idolatry.

Scores of children, teachers, nuns and monks lined up to kiss the pope's ring as he sat on a dark red velvet throne inside the monastery.

John Paul stroked the bowed head of an elderly woman and kissed a baby in its mother's arms.

The pope drove directly from Queen Alia International Airport to Mount Nebo, which is 25 kilometers southwest of Amman, the capital of Jordan.

Among those who turned out to see the pope pass on his way to Mount Nebo was Muhammed Suleiman, a Jordanian Muslim originally who now operates a chain of jewelry stores in Santa Fe, N.M., and who had come back home to the town of Madaba near Mount Nebo in order to welcome the pope as he passed on the street.

"This will make the nation feel that all of us, both Christians and Muslims are one community,''said Suleiman. "If you think about it, Christianity and Islam, we believe in the same God. The differences are in the practice. We go to the mosque, they go to the church," said Suleiman, who described himself as a religious Muslim."

After a three-hour wait, Suleiman and the townspeople cheered and clapped as the bullet-proof popemobile finally whizzed through the streets. After it passed, everyone quickly dispersed for home.

On his arrival in Jordan, the pope walked slowly but without help down the red-carpeted landing stairs. He kissed a bowl of Jordanian soil as cannons boomed out a military salute and a white dove of peace rose into the cloudless sky.King Abdalluh II, other members of the royal family and Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim leaders greeted the pope as he descended from his special Alitalia jetliner.

In a brief address at the airport, John Paul said he had wanted since the beginning of his pontificate more than 22 years ago to commemorate the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of Christ by making a spiritual pilgrimage tothe Holy Land.

"From the beginning of my ministry as bishop of Rome, I have had agreat desire to mark this event by praying in some of the places linkedto salvation history--places that speak to us of that moment's longpreparation through biblical times, places where our lord Jesus Christactually lived or which are connected with his work of redemption," hesaid.

Recalling that last month he visited Egypt and Mount Sinai where theOld Testament says God revealed his name to Moses and gave him the TenCommandments, the pope said, "Today I am in Jordan--a land sanctifiedby the presence of Jesus himself, by the presence of Moses, Elijah andJohn the Baptist and of saints and martyrs of the early church."

John Paul praised the concern of Jordan's late King Hussein, ofAbdullah and of all Jordanians, Muslims and Christians, for peacethroughout the Middle East.

"In this area of the world there are grave and urgent issues ofjustice, of the rights of peoples and nations, which have to be resolvedfor the good of all concerned and as a condition for a lasting peace,"he said. "No matter how difficult, no matter how long, the process ofseeking peace must continue."The king described the pope's visit as a mission of "hope."

Speaking at the airport ceremony, he said that it would encourage "Palestinians who yearn for justice and stability," as well as Israelis seeking "security and acceptance," and Lebanese and Syrians who yearn for a "better tomorrow" and an end to war.


The pope, who arrived in the Middle East as Israeli and Palestinian officials prepared toresume negotiations in the United States, has long upheld the right ofthe Palestinian people to a homeland.

From Jordan, John Paul will travel Tuesday to Israel andthe autonomous Palestinian territories.