Tuesday, June 3, 2014

I am safely back in Rome after a magnificent 12 days in the Holy Land, having spent the last five in Jordan. This was the most tine I ever spent in Jordan and I was lucky enough, as you have seen especially on my Facebook page, to visit people and places in Amman as well as to take side trips to amazing Petra, Jesus baptismal site at Bethany beyond the Jordan and the beautiful resorts on the Dead Sea in the Bethany-Madaba area.

As you surely noticed, I spent more time posting photos and videos and news updates on Youtube, Facebook and Twitter than on this page, Joans Rome, during my trip. Im back, but only for today and tomorrow as Ill take a few days off to attend a wedding in the States. Then, it will be back to normal.

Yesterday, I received the photos posted below from the Royal Household in Amman, and absolutely had to share them with you. But first, I must give proper credit: Arabic: أرشيف الديوان الملكي الهاشمي English: Royal Hashemite Court Archives

In the general turmoil of the Middle East, Jordan is an island of tranquility and peace, warm, welcoming people, religious freedom and good relations among the religions found in this majority Muslim country. Jordan is small but it has opened its borders to refugees and asylum seekers from the neighboring lands of Syria, Iraq and Palestine, even to the point of overflowing. This is due in no small part to King Abdullah II who took over the throne in 1999 when his father, King Hussein died.

I spoke to so many people during my five days in Jordan and, without exception, Jordanians had high praise for their monarch, stressing how highly they regard, and love, their king. Just mentioning his name brought a smile to peoples faces.

He has many of the same qualities Pope Francis has an empathy with people, an innate kindness towards the unfortunate and under-privileged, a true love of his subjects, a desire for peace and to bring people together through religion. Many Jordanians stressed to me how down-to-earth the king is and that is something we always hear about Pope Francis.

I learned from someone present at the Jordan baptismal site with King Abdullah and Pope Francis on May 24 of a lovely, thoughtful gesture by the king who, by the way, had personally driven the Pope in a golf cart on the final leg of the trek to the baptismal site (you will understand more when I post photos of my own visit). Also present at the baptism site (and in the golf cart) were Queen Rania, the heir to the throne, Crown Prince Hussein, a Franciscan a father and a member of the royal staff.

Explanations were given to Pope Francis and there was even a short period when only the Pope and the King were chatting together most likely in English, which King Abdullah speaks superbly, a common language for both men.

The king knew the Pope wanted to pray and asked everyone in the party, including himself, to retreat a bit and give the Holy Father time alone.

Pope Francis, in his general audience following his trip, reiterated his thanks to King Abdullah and to Jordan for welcoming refugees, in addition to promoting inter-religious relations.

To understand Jordan and its king here are some ample excerpts from the speeches given by both Pope Francis and King Abdullah at the Royal Palace following the Popes arrival on May 24.

Pope Francis told the king and his assembled guests, 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. I am grateful to His Majesty King Abdullah II for his warm words of welcome, as I recall with pleasure our recent meeting in the Vatican. 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.

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. Such generosity merits the appreciation and support of the international community. The Catholic Church, to the extent of its abilities, has sought to provide assistance to refugees and those in need, especially through Caritas Jordan.

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. 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.

I take this opportunity to reiterate my 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 would also like to offer an affectionate greeting to the Christian communities present in this country since apostolic times who contribute to the common good of the society of which they are fully a part. 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. Religious 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 ones 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 ones beliefs in public.

King Abdullah II told Pope Francis, Welcome to Jordan, the land of peace and Muslim-Christian harmony, and home of prophets and saints. On behalf of all Jordanians, welcome! It is a special honor, he said, that your pilgrimage to the Holy Land begins here, in Jordan: land of faith, land of fellowship. Here, fifty years ago, my late father His Majesty King Hussein welcomed Pope Paul the Sixth the first official papal visit to a Muslim country. Here, fourteen years ago, I was privileged to welcome Saint John Paul the Second; and five years ago, Pope Benedict the Sixteenth. Here, today, Muslims and Christians are building a shared future, on the common ground of mutual respect, peace and devotion to God.

Common ground is where the next steps for all humanity must begin.

In our modern era, we face vast global challenges. Not least is the terrible cost of sectarian and inter-religious 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.

Indeed, the world is rich with people of good will, who seek to uphold human dignity and peaceful coexistence. Let me acknowledge, with gratitude, your leadership in this cause. 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.

Since becoming Pontiff, you have reminded us, in word and in deed, that Pontiff means bridge builder. Jordanians, too, are building bridges. Our work includes concrete and tangible actions, over many years.

King Abdullah noted that he is 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. My Hashemite duty extends to protecting the Holy Sites of Christians and Muslims in Jordan and in Jerusalem. As Custodian, I am committed to safeguarding the Holy City, as a place of worship for all and, God willing, a safe home for all communities for all generations.

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