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 CNS Story:

JORDAN-MELKITE May-9-2009 (460 words) With photos. xxxi

Pope encourages church in Jordan to make its voice heard

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

AMMAN, Jordan (CNS) -- At his first liturgy in Jordan, Pope Benedict XVI encouraged the country's Catholic minority to make its voice heard in public life and to join forces with Muslims when moral concerns cross religious boundaries.

The pope attended an evening prayer service May 9 at the Melkite Catholic Cathedral of St. George in Amman, which was filled to capacity with bishops, priests, men and women religious, seminarians and members of church lay movements.

The 82-year-old pontiff arrived to a tumultuous welcome. As a choir sang a hymn, the pope walked down the main aisle of the cathedral, past hundreds of hands that reached out to touch him. He held the Eastern pastoral staff handed him at the doors of the church by Melkite Patriarch Gregoire III Laham of Damascus, Syria.

It was the pope's first exclusive encounter with Jordanian Catholics, who number about 109,000 in a population of 6 million. Leaders of the predominantly Muslim country have been careful to protect the church's religious liberty, and Jordanian law guarantees that 8 percent of the seats in Parliament go to Christians.

In his talk at the vespers service, the pope asked Catholics -- especially the young -- to take advantage of these opportunities.

"Do not be afraid to make your own wise, measured and respectful contribution to the public life of the kingdom. The authentic voice of faith will always bring integrity, justice, compassion and peace," he said.

Through its network of social services, including schools, hospitals and cultural initiatives, the Catholic Church presents a sign of hope in Jordan, the pope said. In their interaction with members of other religions, he said, Catholics should be aware that many of them share the same worries about the direction of contemporary culture.

"This is especially noticeable in regard to the hopes and aspirations of parents for their children," the pope said.

"What parent or person of good will could not be troubled by the negative influences so pervasive in our globalized world, including the destructive elements within the entertainment industry which so callously exploit the innocence and sensibility of the vulnerable and the young?" he said.

The pope praised Jordanian Catholics for their assistance to the country's burgeoning refugee population, including some 700,000 people who have fled Iraq.

The evening liturgy was conducted in the Melkite rite and featured prayers in five languages, including Arabic.

The pope emphasized that various Eastern Catholic rites enrich the universal church and can "never be understood simply as objects to be passively preserved."

The particular churches within Catholicism testify to the church's dynamism, he said. While the history of these communities includes times of theological dispute or periods of repression, they also include moments of reconciliation and rich cultural revival to which Eastern churches have greatly contributed, he said.


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