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Pope calls for courage among Mideast Christians

Thousands celebrate papal mass in Jordan

Published:

Pope Benedict XVI urged Christians at an open-air mass in Jordan on Sunday to be faithful to their roots in the troubled Middle East where decades of conflict have forced many to emigrate.

"I have long awaited this opportunity to stand before you as a witness to the Risen Saviour and to encourage you to persevere in faith, hope and love," the pontiff said in his homily.

"The Catholic community here is deeply touched by the difficulties and uncertainties which affect all the people of the Middle East," he said to around 50,000 worshippers from across the region, including Syria and Iraq.

"May you never forget the great dignity which derives from your Christian heritage, or fail to sense the loving solidarity of all your brothers and sisters in the Church throughout the world," he added.

"Fidelity to your Christian roots, fidelity to the Church's mission in the Holy Land, demands of each of you a particular kind of courage: the courage of conviction, born of personal faith, not mere social convention or family tradition," he said.

Visit to Bethany

On Sunday afternoon Benedict travels east of the Jordanian capital Amman to Bethany where Jordanian experts have unearthed ruins of ancient churches amid the tamarisk trees and found early pilgrims' writings about the site.

Here, according to tradition, was where John the Baptist lived and where he baptized Jesus, who was then about 30 years old. New archaeological evidence was found in 1996.

A rival site exists on the Israel side of the Jordan River but most scholars believe the Biblical site for the cleansing ritual was on the Jordanian side.

Archaeologists have found a number of churches, caves and baptismal pools dating from the Roman and Byzantine periods since excavations began.

Christian denominations have begun building new churches for modern pilgrims nearby. Benedict will lay cornerstones for two Catholic churches.

On Monday, Benedict moves on to Israel and the Palestinian territories for the most delicate part of his trip, whose main theme so far has been Christian-Muslim relations.

Fidelity to your Christian roots, fidelity to the Church's mission in the Holy Land, demands of each of you a particular kind of courage

Pope Benedict

Mending fences with Islam

On Saturday, Benedict visited a mosque in another attempt to mend fences with Islam after a speech he made in 2006 that caused offence to Muslims.

Speaking at the modern King Hussein bin Talal Mosque in Amman, he struck a note of harmony and shared purpose between the world's two largest faith groups, urging Christians and Muslims to jointly defend religion from political manipulation.

"I firmly believe Christians and Muslims can embrace (the task of cooperation), particularly through our respective contributions to learning and scholarship, and public service," he told Islamic leaders and diplomats at the mosque.

Addressing the pope, Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal reminded the pope of the "hurt" Muslims around the world felt in 2006 after Benedict quoted a Byzantine emperor who said Islam was irrational and violent.

Ghazi, a cousin of Jordanian King Abdullah, told the gathering the Muslim world "appreciated" the Vatican's clarification and accepted that the pope was not expressing his own opinion at the time but making an historical citation.

In one section of his address at the mosque, Benedict referred to God as "merciful and compassionate," using the formula Muslims use when speaking of God.

Benedict said while no one could deny a history of tensions and divisions, Christians and Muslims should prevent "the manipulation of religion, sometimes for political ends."

"That is the real catalyst for tension and division, and at times even violence in society."

I firmly believe Christians and Muslims can embrace particularly through our respective contributions to learning and scholarship, and public service

Pope Benedict