AMMAN, Jordan, MAY 10, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI has reached the goals that were set for the first leg of his weeklong pilgrimage to the Holy Land, says a Vatican spokesman.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, affirmed that the results of Part 1 of the Pope’s pilgrimage are thus far “very positive.”
The Holy Father arrived in Jordan on Friday and is set to leave for Israel on Monday. During his time in Jordan, he has visited Mount Nebo and Bethany beyond the Jordan River. He also stopped at Jordan’s state mosque and addressed Muslim leaders there.
“The Pope has been able to celebrate all the meetings scheduled in the program with great serenity, receiving a very warm and friendly welcome, both on the part of the state authorities and the royal family, and on the part of the Muslim world and the Catholic community,” Father Lombardi said.
“It seems to me very wise to have begun this trip through a gate of peace, a gate of serenity,” he reflected. “In this moment, in the setting of the Middle East, Jordan is a country that is essentially serene, and therefore, the fact of starting the voyage through the Middle East at this point, I think has made the beginning of the trip be particularly positive.”
Step forward with Muslims
Father Lombardi highlighted Saturday’s stop at the King Hussein bin Talal Mosque.
“It seems that it’s becoming more and more normal for a pope, with a friendly attitude, to enter a Muslim place of prayer,” he said. “This is a sign of the advance in the positive relationship between Christians and Muslims in these years.”
Reflecting on the 2006 turmoil over Benedict XVI’s speech in Regensburg, Father Lombardi said he believes the crisis in Christian-Muslim relations that sprung from that misunderstanding has been resolved for some time now.
“Now then, as we know, when a misunderstanding arises about complex issues, a whole series of steps and time is needed to completely heal all the consequences,” he acknowledged. “And therefore, it is not surprising if references to this difficult moment keep coming up.”
“But we already have more than two years worth of positive experiences that began in that moment,” the spokesman affirmed.
He noted that Prince Ghazi Bin Muhammed Bin Talal, a counselor to King Abdullah II, did mention Regensburg in his welcoming speech at the mosque, “but he clearly said that it is a chapter definitively left behind, and afterward he greeted the Pope as the ‘Successor of Peter,’ something which on the lips of a representative of the Muslim world, is a very significant greeting,” the Jesuit contended.
Boost for Catholic minority
Father Lombardi said the other objective the Pope had for the Jordan leg of the journey was to show support for the small Christian community, which makes up only about 3% of Jordan’s more than 6 million people. And only about half the Christians are Catholics.
“Another beautiful image” Benedict XVI will carry in his heart, the spokesman stated, “is that of the warmth of the Christian community that welcomes the Pope.”
Father Lombardi offered the example of those who greeted the Holy Father on Saturday for a celebration of Vespers at the Greek-Melkite Cathedral of St. George. He said the “enthusiasm of the welcome was impressive.”
He continued: “[The Catholic Church here] is a lively Church and has been able to demonstrate this to the Pope not only with the welcome, the cordiality and the intensity of the moments of prayer, but also with other important circumstances.
“In the Regina Pacis Center for disabled youth, he has inaugurated a new section; in Madaba, he blessed the cornerstone of a university — an initiative of huge importance not only for Jordan but for the whole Middle East, where the development of the contribution that the Church gives to culture will be highly significant.
“Then the placement of the cornerstones of two churches — a Latin one and a Greek-Melkite one — in the zone of the baptism of Christ shows growth in the places where the Church is.
“Certainly the fact that the Pope’s visit has been linked to these beautiful circumstances says that it is a Church that feels alive and looks to the future.”
Upon arriving to Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Father Lombardi said the Pope is hoping that this visit “can be truly a message of peace, reconciliation, and encouragement for the Christian communities that find themselves in difficulties — a message of hope, of trust, of love to give an effective contribution to improve the situation in the whole region.”