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Pope Francis arrives in Jordan, calls for religious freedom everywhere

Catholic World News - May 24, 2014

Pope Francis arrived in Jordan on May 24 at the beginning of his three-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land and was welcomed at Al-Husseini Royal Palace in Amman by King Abdullah II and Queen Rania.

Jordan, a nation of 6.5 million, is 92% Muslim and 6% Christian. The majority of Christians are Orthodox; 2% of Jordanians are Catholic. Christians in Jordan enjoy a greater degree of religious freedom than in many Muslim nations of the Middle East, and the King, who was educated at Oxford and Georgetown, has been a leader in interreligious dialogue.

“I thank God for granting me this opportunity to visit the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in the footsteps of my predecessors Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI,” Pope Francis began. “I also greet the members of the Royal Family, the government and the people of Jordan, this land so rich in history and with such great religious significance for Judaism, Christianity and Islam.”

Over two million refugees live in Jordan, and Pope Francis noted that “Jordan has offered a generous welcome to great numbers of Palestinian and Iraqi refugees, as well as to other refugees from troubled areas, particularly neighboring Syria, ravaged by a conflict which has lasted all too long.”

“While acknowledging with deep regret the continuing grave tensions in the Middle East, I thank the authorities of the Kingdom for all that they are doing and I encourage them to persevere in their efforts to seek lasting peace for the entire region,” the Pope continued. “This great goal urgently requires that a peaceful solution be found to the crisis in Syria, as well as a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Pope Francis then expressed his “profound respect and esteem for the Muslim community and my appreciation for the leadership of His Majesty the King in promoting a better understanding of the virtues taught by Islam and a climate of serene coexistence between the faithful of the different religions. I am grateful that Jordan has supported a number of important initiatives aimed at advancing interreligious dialogue and understanding between Jews, Christians and Muslims.”

“I would also like to offer an affectionate greeting to the Christian communities present in this country since apostolic times, contributing to the common good of the society of which they are fully a part,” the Pope added. “Although Christians today are numerically a minority, theirs is a significant and valued presence in the fields of education and health care, thanks to their schools and hospitals. They are able to profess their faith peaceably, in a climate of respect for religious freedom.”

Expanding his remarks on religious freedom, Pope Francis said that

[r]eligious freedom is in fact a fundamental human right and I cannot fail to express my hope that it will be upheld throughout the Middle East and the entire world. The right to religious freedom “includes on the individual and collective levels the freedom to follow one’s conscience in religious matters and, at the same time, freedom of worship… [it also includes] the freedom to choose the religion which one judges to be true and to manifest one’s beliefs in public” (Pope Benedict XVI, Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, 26). Christians consider themselves, and indeed are, full citizens, and as such they seek, together with their Muslim fellow citizens, to make their own particular contribution to the society in which they live.

Pope Francis’s address followed remarks by King Abdullah II, who paid tribute to Pope Francis as “a conscience for the whole world.”

“Common ground is where the next steps for all humanity must begin,” the King said. “In our modern era, we face vast global challenges. Not least is the terrible cost of sectarian and interreligious conflict. But God has given us an invincible defense. Where ideologues spread ignorance and distrust, our joined voices can bring understanding and good will. Where lives have been shattered by injustice and violence, our united efforts can help bring healing and hope.”

“Let me acknowledge, with gratitude, your leadership in this cause,” he continued. “You have committed yourself to dialogue, especially with Islam. Muslims everywhere appreciate your messages of esteem and friendship. In addition to being the successor of Saint Peter, Your Holiness, you have become a conscience for the whole world.”

“As the 41st descendant of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), I have sought to uphold the true spirit of Islam, the Islam of peace,” the King continued. “Here in Jordan, a long Christian heritage exists in harmony with our country’s Islamic heritage and identity. We treasure this inheritance. Your Holiness, we are delighted that you, like your predecessors, will perform a pilgrimage to the Baptism Site of Jesus Christ (peace be upon him), at Bethany beyond the Jordan.”

King Abdullah concluded:

Your humanity and wisdom can make a special contribution to easing the crisis of Syrian refugees and the burden on neighboring host countries like Jordan. We must help Syria regain its future, end the bloodshed, and find a peaceful political solution.

Your actions and support also continue to be needed to help Palestinians and Israelis resolve their long conflict. The status-quo of ‘justice denied’ to the Palestinians; fear of the other; fear of change; these are the way to mutual ruin, not mutual respect. Together, we can help leaders on both sides take the courageous steps needed, for peace, justice and co-existence.

Your Holiness, You begin your Holy Land pilgrimage with the warm friendship and sincere respect of all Jordanians. May your work be fruitful and bring peace, for blessed are the peacemakers.

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