Pope begins intense three-day visit to the Holy Land in Jordan

Pope Francis has begun a packed visit to the Holy Land with a call for religious freedom in the Middle East, including respect for the right to change one’s religion.

“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 Pope said in a speech to local dignitaries shortly after his arrival in Jordan.

Starting his fast-paced three-day visit, which was scheduled to take him to Israel and the Palestinian territories, the Pope said Jordanian Christians, who make up less than two per cent of the country’s population, “are able to profess their faith peaceably, in a climate of respect for religious freedom”, and he thanked Jordan’s King Abdullah II and the country’s Muslim community for their support of inter-religious dialogue with Christians and Jews.

A number of Middle Eastern governments, however, prohibit or restrict the practice of any religion besides Islam.

Quoting Benedict XVI, Pope Francis said the right to religious freedom necessarily includes the “freedom to choose the religion which one judges to be true and to manifest one’s beliefs in public”.