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 CNS Story:

POPE-AMMAN May-24-2014 (850 words) With photos. xxxi

At Amman Mass, pope calls on Christians to promote peace

By Francis X. Rocca
Catholic News Service

AMMAN, Jordan (CNS) -- Celebrating Mass on his first day in the Holy Land, Pope Francis said hope for peace in a region torn by sectarian conflicts comes from faith in God.

"The way of peace is strengthened if we realize that we are all of the same stock and members of 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," the pope said May 24 in his homily at Amman's International Stadium.

Pope Francis' zucchetto is blown into the air as he delivers his homily during Mass at Amman International Stadium in Jordan May 24. (CNS/Paul Haring)

"Diversity of ideas and persons should not trigger rejection or prove an obstacle, for variety always enriches," he told the congregation of some 30,000 people. "We ought, therefore, to show concrete signs of humility, fraternity, forgiveness and reconciliation.

"Peace is not something which can be bought," the pope said. "It is a gift to be sought patiently and to be crafted through the actions, great and small, of our everyday lives."

"Let us ask the spirit to prepare our hearts to encounter our brothers and sisters, so that we may overcome our differences rooted in political thinking, language, culture and religion," he said. "Let us ask him to anoint our whole being with the oil of mercy, which heals the injuries caused by mistakes, misunderstandings and disputes."

Under blue skies, with temperatures in the low 70s and the air stirred by a dry breeze, Pope Francis celebrated Mass in Italian, with readings and responses read in Arabic.

Before the pope's arrival, clusters of yellow and white balloons representing the Vatican flag colors were released in the sky above the stadium, followed by those of the Jordanian flag -- white, red, black and green -- amid the cheering crowd.

As he arrived, the pope embraced children, the sick and others who ventured closed to a fence to catch his attention. Before he spoke, white doves were released into the sky, adding to participants' excitement.

The pope acknowledged the presence in the congregation of "many Christian refugees from Palestine, Syria and Iraq," asking them to take his greetings to their families and communities, "and assure them of my closeness."

An estimated 1.3 million refugees now live in Jordan, alongside a permanent population of 6.4 million. The pope was scheduled to meet with young refugees following the Mass, after a visit to a traditional site of Jesus' baptism near the Jordan River.

Pope Francis also acknowledged the approximately 1,400 Jordanian children making their first Communion at the Mass. The children were dressed in white, with many of the boys wearing baseball caps in the gold and white colors of the Vatican flag.

Miram Dabbaneh was excited that her 9-year-old son was among those receiving his first Communion.

"It's a blessing for Jordan and the Middle East for (Pope Francis) to come," she said. "In Jordan, we Christians feel safe because of the presence of His Majesty King Abdullah."

At the end of Mass, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem addressed the pope in Italian, calling the Catholic Church a source of unity in Jordan, both among Christians and the general population. But he lamented the "true human hemorrhage" of Christian emigration to other Arab countries and North America.

The Christian population of Jordan is estimated at 4-6 percent.

Pope Francis' exit from the stadium was slightly disrupted, as several bishops insisted on greeting him rather than take their places in the recessional procession.

Among those in the crowd was Collette Aoush, a Catholic youth leader from Lebanon, who traveled to see the pope with about 1,000 Lebanese.

"He is the person who will bring peace, humility, and a big message to the world, especially Christians," she said. "We hope Pope Francis will be a saint."

Jordanian businessman Omar Naajad, who traveled from Dubai especially for the visit, said Pope Francis "is what the church needs nowadays."

"He's inclusive. He doesn't exclude anybody from the church whether you're Muslim, Christian, Buddist or homosexual. That's what I always felt the church needs," he said. "It's really wonderful to have such a pope, although I am Orthodox."

Canadian Serena Myrholm saw the pope in Rome at Easter and said she and her husband really wanted to see him in Amman, where they work as teachers in an international school.

"He's an example of what we should be regardless of background," said the native of Vancouver, British Columbia.

"We really love his model of humility for the rest of humankind," said her husband, Bradley Myrholm.

An U.S. defense contractor from New Orleans on temporary assignment in Jordan also attended the Mass.

"It's amazing to see the pope in a Muslim country rather than a country dominated by Christianity," said the 31-year-old, who identified himself only as Dennis. "It's amazing!"

The pope's fast-paced three-day trip to the Holy Land was also scheduled to take him to Israel and the Palestinian territories. It was organized to mark the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI's meeting in Jerusalem with Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, considered first among equals by Orthodox bishops. Pope Francis was scheduled to commemorate that event with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in Jerusalem May 25.

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Contributing to this story was Dale Gavlak.


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