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 CNS Story:

JORDAN-MASS May-10-2009 (940 words) With photos. xxxi

At first Communion Mass, pope preaches courage in following Jesus

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

AMMAN, Jordan (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI's only public Mass in Jordan was a liturgy like that found in many parishes in May: It was first Communion Sunday.

Dressed in white robes and seated close to the altar platform, dozens of children from all over Jordan received the Eucharist for the first time during the pope's Mass May 10 in Amman International Stadium.

Peter Mihko, 15, and his sister Cecilia, 11, were part of the first Communion group of 40 young people from Sacred Heart Chaldean Catholic parish in Amman. Like many in the group, the Mihko siblings are refugees from Iraq.

"I'm going to receive my first Communion from the pope," Cecilia said before Mass. "Wow! This is something really amazing; it's a dream come true."

Her older brother said, "Words cannot describe what I am feeling at receiving my first Communion from the messenger of God, from the messenger of peace."

In his homily, Pope Benedict preached about the need for fidelity and courage in following Jesus, in discovering one's vocation, in building a family, in promoting dialogue with Jordan's Muslim majority and in carrying out acts of charity.

"Jesus knows what challenges you face, what trials you endure and the good that you do in his name," Pope Benedict told the crowd in the stadium, which holds 25,000 people.

Standing in front of a picture of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, the pope encouraged Jordan's 109,000 Catholics to trust Jesus, to trust in his love for his flock and to "persevere in your witness to the triumph of his love."

People should be grateful, he said, for the love of God that can be experienced in the family, "from the love of our fathers and mothers, our grandparents, our brothers and sisters."

"May every Christian family grow in fidelity to its lofty vocation to be a true school of prayer where children learn a sincere love of God, where they mature in self-discipline and concern for the needs of others and where, shaped by the wisdom born of faith, they contribute to the building of an ever more just and fraternal society," the pope prayed.

Noting that the local church was nearing the end of a special year of the family, which included a focus on the dignity of women, Pope Benedict urged the people to recognize "how much your society owes to all those women who in different and at times courageous ways have devoted their lives to building peace and fostering love."

"By its public respect for women and its defense of the innate dignity of every human person, the church in the Holy Land can make an important contribution to the advancement of a culture of true humanity and the building of a civilization of love," he said.

One of the mothers present at the Mass was Mariana Kardsheh, who came from Madaba with her husband and children, including 8-year-old Natalie, who was making her first Communion during the liturgy.

"It's no coincidence" that Natalie was chosen to be among the children receiving the sacrament at the papal Mass, Kardsheh said.

She and her husband -- childless at the time -- were at Pope John Paul II's Mass in Amman in 2000.

"I made my way to the popemobile. He looked at me, I saw his eyes and I made my prayer," Kardsheh said.

Two months later she was asleep and dreaming, she said; "I opened my eyes and saw an angel and I knew it was a girl," who would be born.

Kardsheh is convinced that Natalie's birth was an answer to the prayer she made in the presence of Pope John Paul and that it was fitting that the girl's first Communion Mass would be celebrated by Pope Benedict.

With Catholics attending the Mass from all over the Middle East, including the violence-torn Iraq, Pope Benedict said he knows that the region's Christians are affected by "difficulties and uncertainties."

"May you never forget the great dignity which derives from your Christian heritage or fail to sense the loving solidarity of all your brothers and sisters in the church throughout the world," he said.

The Naiomi family, Chaldean Catholics who fled to Amman from Mosul, Iraq, three years ago, was part of the crowd at the Mass.

Saif Naiomi, 24, said, "We want the pope to send a message of peace so that people can understand that the Christian religion is a peacemaker.

"I wish the pope could go to Iraq, but he can't because there is no security," he said.

Pope Benedict encouraged the people to stay in the Middle East, work for the good of their countries and remain solid in the faith of their communities founded by Jesus' disciples.

"Fidelity to your Christian roots, fidelity to the church's mission in the Holy Land, demands of each of you a particular kind of courage: the courage of conviction, born of personal faith, not mere social convention or family tradition," he said.

Being Christian means having "the courage to engage in dialogue and to work side by side with other Christians in the service of the Gospel and solidarity with the poor, the displaced and the victims of profound human tragedies," the pope said.

Christians must build bridges to members of other faiths and cultures, opening a dialogue that will "enrich the fabric of society," he said.

And in a region torn by violence and terrorism, Pope Benedict told those at the Mass that being faithful "also means bearing witness to the love which inspires us to lay down our lives in the service of others, and thus to counter ways of thinking which justify taking innocent lives."

Editors: Contributing to this story was Doreen Abi Raad in Amman.

END


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