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Papal Pilgrimage of Peace

An eyewitness account of the historic visit of Pope John Paul II to the Holy Land.

by Michael J.L. La Civita

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“We welcome you to the Holy Land as a man of peace, whose message of reconciliation and harmony continues to echo throughout the world. We welcome you as a symbol of all that is pure and noble in this life: faith and prayer to Almighty God and forgiveness for each other. We welcome you as a true reminder…that the power of love is much stronger…than conflict and hatred. We welcome you as a fellow believer in God, the Compassionate and the Merciful.”

With these stirring words Jordan’s young king, Abdullah II, welcomed Pope John Paul II to the Holy Land. The King’s greeting, delivered on a blustery Monday in March, set a spiritual course for the six-day journey – closely watched by Christians, Jews and Muslims around the world – through the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the State of Israel and Palestine.

“Your [visit] reminds us of important facts: the virtues of faith and the absolute need for forgiveness of one’s enemies,” said King Abdullah. “This is a unique and emotional moment that brings closer the meaning of tolerance and coexistence.”

The King, who had just returned to Jordan after making the Hajj, or pilgrimage, to the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina, noted that the Pope’s visit “brings the hope of a brighter future to those who have known nothing but the misery of the past. Hope for the Palestinians, who yearn for justice and stability; a promise for the Israelis of security and acceptance; comfort for the Lebanese of a better tomorrow; and hope for the Syrians that the sad chapter of war is finally over. It is also a prayer for our Iraqi brothers and sisters for a brighter new day to dawn finally upon them.”

Though Christians are a minority in Jordan, Christians and Muslims alike understood the spiritual significance of John Paul ’s 27-hour visit there. His visit to this resource-poor but stable kingdom put it on the world’s stage, if only briefly; the kingdom, like its neighbors to the west, is rich in biblical history.

John Paul II prayed at Mount Nebo, where Moses first saw the Promised Land and, later, where he died.

On Tuesday, early in the morning, hours before the papal Mass began at Amman Stadium, the beating of drums, the excited voices of children and the sound of hymns could be heard in some quarters of the modern city.

Buses packed with folks from parishes in Amman, Fuheis, Irbid, Kerak, Madaba and Zerqa and from distant villages such as Ader and Smakieh arrived more than five hours before the liturgy – all in a hurry to find seats in the cold stadium.

Some 10,000 Iraqis, most of them Chaldean Catholics seeking refuge in Amman, were among the estimated 70,000 enthusiastic participants.

While latecomers looked for seats, hymns were sung and Bedouin women greeted the Pope’s imminent arrival in a traditional Arab manner with the zaghrouti, a warbling sound that welcomes a guest or announces a grand family event.

Msgr. Robert Stern joined the local church in welcoming the Holy Father, concelebrating the Mass and later joining the Pope for lunch at the Latin Vicar’s residence in Amman. The Pontifical Mission’s Regional Director for Jordan and Iraq, Mr. Ra’ed Bahou, and his wife, Mary, were among 30 Jordanians invited to receive the Eucharist from the Pope.

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Tags: Holy Land Christian-Muslim relations Pilgrimage/pilgrims Msgr. Stern Pope John Paul II