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 CNS Story:

JORDAN-PEOPLE May-8-2009 (320 words) xxxi

Traveling for hours, Middle East residents come to see pope

By Doreen Abi Raad
Catholic News Service

AMMAN, Jordan (CNS) -- People from the Middle East traveled for hours to see Pope Benedict XVI in Amman.

Eid Gabriel, a 44-year-old Coptic Catholic from Alexandria, Egypt, traveled nearly 15 hours by bus with a group of nuns and priests.

"I asked to come with them, because I don't know if I'll ever get the chance to see him again," he told Catholic News Service, holding souvenir hats for his wife and two children back in Egypt.

"I am very excited to hear his words directly," he said May 8 as he waited for the pope's arrival at the Church of the Good Shepherd. "Also, I hope his visit will be a step ahead for peace."

Gabriel was one of the first to rush over to the pontiff when Pope Benedict waded into the crowd at the church, outside the Regina Pacis center for people with disabilities. With a beaming smile and dazed expression, Gabriel explained afterward: "I held his hand two times. This is the greatest moment in my life. ... I felt like I was in heaven."

"I've been waiting all my life for this moment, to see the pope," said Gloria Penaso of Iloilo, Philippines. Penaso, who is trained as a midwife, has been working in Jordan for 19 years, currently as a maid.

"Really, we can be sure: God is alive," she said after seeing Pope Benedict.

Carmelite Father Hayaf Fakhry, a Maronite priest from Lebanon, and eight other people traveled by car for more than 10 hours, arriving in Amman at 2 a.m. the day of the pope's arrival.

"We wanted to pray for him and to feel him next to us and to make him feel there are Christians here in the Middle East supporting him," the priest told CNS.

The pope was in Amman on the first day of his eight-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land.


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