Pope heads to Israel after fence-mending trip to Jordan
In Jordan, Pope Benedict XVI sought to stress the importance of religion in public life as a way to find common ground with Jewish and Muslim groups.
The overall feeling in Jordan is one of pride and positivity as Pope Benedict XVI leaves for Israel after a "Christian pilgrimage" that doubled as an opportunity to smooth the Vatican's strained relations with both Muslim and Jewish communities.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
On Sunday, the third day of his week-long trip to the Middle East, the pope held an open air Mass in a Jordanian soccer stadium, urging the region's Christians to persevere in their faith despite hardships threatening their ancient communities.
Speaking on Saturday in the company of Christian and Muslim leaders, the pope discussed "the essential relationship between God and the world," which he said was the common ground between the religions.
It's this theme – the importance of a vigorous role for religion in public life – that the pope sought to stress as a way to find common ground between the Abrahamic faith traditions.
"The opponents of religion seek not simply to silence its voice but to replace it with their own," he said. "The need for believers to be true to their principles and beliefs is felt all the more keenly."
Muslims throughout the world reacted angrily when the pope gave a speech at a German university in 2006, which appeared to associate Islam with violence and irrational extremism. And in 2009, many in the Jewish community were up in arms after the pope reversed the excommunication of Holocaust-denying bishop Richard Williamson.
This weekend, the pope reached out to both groups. In a speech at Mt. Nebo, where Moses was supposed to have looked out over promised land, he described the "inseparable bond" between the Catholic church and the Jewish people, and called for reconciliation between the two faiths. In another address, at the huge new King Hussein bin Talal mosque in an affluent area of Amman, he mentioned his "deep respect for the Muslim community," and praised Jordanian leaders for their contributions to education, interfaith dialogue, and "a better understanding of the virtues proclaimed by Islam."
Jordanians skeptical of rapprochement
Many Jordanians said they were pleased that the Pope was visiting their country, but faith that the pilgrimage would bring about any rapprochement between Muslims and the West was in short supply.
"There is no hope in any of these [leaders] ... No Arabs! No Pope! Only God," proclaimed Abdullah Abdulkhader, just before Friday prayer at the Husseni mosque, in one of Amman's oldest areas. Neither religious dialogue nor the government, Abdulkhader said, would lead to any improvement in the lot of Arabs, particularly Palestinians.
A refugee from the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, now easily in his 60s, he rents out used cardboard cartons for latecomers to use as makeshift prayer mats. On Fridays, the mass of the faithful praying in the Husseini mosque fills the building and the courtyard, and spills out into the streets on either side.
The mosque is widely associated with conservative Islamic groups, and is the starting point for many of Amman's rare political demonstrations. But despite loud objections to the papal visit from Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood, there were few negative reactions from those coming to pray on Friday. In fact, many seemed more concerned about how the Pope perceived them than about insults to their religion.