VATICAN ( -- The small Catholic community in Jordan is delighted with the prospect of a visit by Pope John Paul II-- 26 years after Pope Paul VI visited the country.

The Pontiff will arrive in Amman, Jordan's capital, on March 20, on the first leg of his trip to the Holy Land. Msgr. Khaled Akasheh, the sole Jordanian native working the Roman Curia, reports that the visit is being eagerly anticipated by the country's Christian minority.

As Msgr. Akasheh sees it, the papal visit to Jordan will fulfill three purposes:

First, the visit will be the first step in the Pope's Jubilee pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He will visit Mount Nebo, the site southwest of Amman from which Moses looked out over the Promised Land before he died. A small Franciscan monastery now stands on that site, from which the Pope will be able to look out over the Jordan valley, and see Jericho and, in the distance, Jerusalem. He will also visit Wadi Al- Kharrar, on the Jordan River, which is recognized by Jordan's people as the site of Christ's baptism. 

Second, the Pope's visit will invigorate the small Catholic community. There are only about 60,000 Catholics in the Jordan-- a figure that represents just 1 percent of the population. Most of the country's people are Muslim, and most Christians are Greek Orthodox. But the Pope will celebrate a Mass (in the Latin rite) at an outdoor stadium in Amman on March 21, honoring the country's patron, St. John the Baptist.

Finally, the Pope's trip will provide an opportunity for acknowledging the important role played by the Jordanian royal family in the Middle East peace process. The late King Hussein was an important influence in favor of peace, with whom Pope John Paul struck up a warm personal friendship. King Abdallah II, has promised to continue his father's efforts.