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 CNS Story:

JORDAN-NEBO May-9-2009 (770 words) With photos. xxxi

Pope visits ancient biblical site, launches new university in Jordan

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

MADABA, Jordan (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI walked a pilgrim's path at one of the Holy Land's most ancient sites, then launched a project for the church's future in the region.

The pope began his first full day in Jordan May 9 with a visit to Mount Nebo, the place where Moses glimpsed the Promised Land before dying.

From a windswept promontory, the pope looked out over a biblical panorama that stretched from the Dead Sea to Jericho across the Jordan River, with the hills of Jerusalem in the far distance. The mount, called Syagha, is where Jewish and Christian tradition holds that Moses was buried by God himself, at a site that remains unknown.

Seated next to a stone monastic church that dates to the fourth century, the pope listened to an elderly Franciscan friar read from the Book of Deuteronomy, which described how Moses ended his days with a view of the land promised by God to the Israelites.

"The Lord then said to him, 'This is the land which I swore to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that I would give to their descendants. I have let you feast your eyes upon it, but you shall not cross over,'" it read.

The pope stood in the sunshine and delivered a short speech, praising the tradition of pilgrimage and drawing a lesson from Moses' story. Moses reminds people today that they "are part of the ageless pilgrimage of God's people through history," he said.

"Like Moses, we too have been called by name, invited to undertake a daily exodus from sin and slavery toward life and freedom, and given an unshakeable promise to guide our journey," he said.

Christians are asked in a special way to prepare for Christ's kingdom through charity and service to the poor and by being agents of reconciliation in the world, the pope said.

"We know that, like Moses, we may not see the complete fulfillment of God's plan in our lifetime. Yet we trust that, by doing our small part, in fidelity to the vocation each of us has received, we will help to make straight the paths of the Lord and welcome the dawn of his kingdom," he said.

He ended his talk by recalling the "inseparable bond" between Christians and the Jewish people, who share the scriptural patrimony of the Old Testament. He expressed the desire to "overcome all obstacles to the reconciliation of Christians and Jews in mutual respect and cooperation."

The pope then rode his popemobile to nearby Madaba, an ancient Moabite city mentioned several times in the Bible. As he passed slowly along the dusty streets of the city's Christian quarter, he was cheered by thousands of people who held flags, signs and photos of him.

The pope came to bless the foundation stone of the University of Madaba, the first Catholic university in Jordan, which is being built by the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem with the support of the Jordanian government.

When completed in about two years, the university will have seven schools and 40 specialized fields of study. Like all of the more than 100 schools run by the church in the Holy Land, it will be open to students of all faiths.

In a speech to several hundred church leaders and civil authorities at the construction site, the pope said the university will be a place of understanding and dialogue, serving society by forming men and women in academic disciplines and sound values.

He said it was important for the church to demonstrate that belief in God does not suppress the search for truth -- although he added that religion, like science and technology, can be "corrupted."

"Religion is disfigured when pressed into the service of ignorance or prejudice, contempt, violence and abuse. In this case we see not only a perversion of religion but also a corruption of human freedom, a narrowing and blindness of the mind," he said.

The new church-run university will be a place where the "quest for truth goes hand in hand with the search for what is good and noble," he said.

Like many educational projects in the Holy Land, this one will rely largely on outside assistance from church agencies.

Bernard Waddingham, treasurer of the Lieutenancy of England and Wales of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, said it has not provided money for the Madaba university yet, but expects to.

A special focus of the order is the schools run by the Latin patriarchate in Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories. The organization funds an elementary school in Madaba.


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