Today was the start of Pope Francis’ brief trip to the Holy Land. His trip might be short but his schedule is not. A quick glance at the Pope’s itinerary leaves one wondering how he still has the energy at 77 to keep such a stringent schedule. Daniel Burke at CNN Belief Blog says it well: “The Pope’s schedule makes Rick Steves look lazy.”
Today Pope Francis arrived in Amman, the capital of Jordan, to meet with King Abdullah II. After his meeting, Pope Francis gave an address. In his address he commended the Kingdom of Jordan for promoting peace in the region and for taking in refugees from Palestine, Iraq, and Syria:
I take this opportunity to reiterate my profound respect and esteem for the Muslim community and my appreciation for the leadership of His Majesty the King in promoting a better understanding of the virtues taught by Islam and a climate of serene coexistence between the faithful of the different religions. You are known as a man of peace and a peacemaker: thank you!
Pope Francis then celebrated Mass at the International Stadium in Amman. He concluded his homily by saying:
Jesus is the one who is sent forth, filled with the Spirit of the Father. Anointed by the same Spirit, we also are sent as messengers and witnesses of peace. Peace is not something which can be bought; it is a gift to be sought patiently and to be “crafted” through the actions, great and small, of our everyday lives. The way of peace is strengthened if we realize that we are all of the same stock and members of the one human family; if we never forget that we have the same heavenly Father and are all his children, made in his image and likeness.
It is in this spirit that I embrace all of you: the Patriarch, my brother bishops and priests, the consecrated men and women, the lay faithful, and the many children who today make their First Holy Communion, together with their families. I also embrace with affection the many Christian refugees from Palestine, Syria and Iraq: please bring my greeting to your families and communities, and assure them of my closeness.
Mass was followed by a trip to the Baptismal Site at Bethany. Pope Francis then ended his day by meeting with refugees and disabled youth. In his address he spoke mostly about the civil war in Syria and the need for peace in the Middle East.
Tomorrow Pope Francis departs Jordan for Bethlehem. There he will celebrate Mass in Manger Square and greet more refugees. He will then depart for Tel Aviv before going to Jerusalem. It is interesting that Pope Francis is stopping in Tel Aviv on his way to Jerusalem. Bethlehem is about 6 miles from Jerusalem, whereas Tel Aviv is 36. Paul Vallely at The Guardian has also noted Pope Francis’ schedule:
When the previous two popes went on pilgrimage to the region, they went first to Jordan, then to Israel, and then to the Occupied Territories. Francis has altered the order. He arrives in Jordan tomorrow but is insisting on then crossing into the occupied territories before visiting Israel. Francis, a man known for the potency of his symbolism and gestures, is making a point.
You see that point more clearly if you look at the official itinerary issued by the Vatican. The first thing the pope will do when he enters the Israeli-occupied West Bank is to call on “the president of the state of Palestine”. The wording is significant: Francis is announcing that he is visiting an entity that Israel, like the United States, insists does not exist.
When he arrives tomorrow in Jerusalem, Pope Francis will meet with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and sign a joint declaration. Their meeting at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre will be followed by a dinner with the Patriarchs and Bishops at the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem.
Pope Francis’ visit fills my heart with joy. Pray with me that his trip might foster peace throughout the Holy Land and the Middle East.