Congregation of 300,000 attend papal Mass in Amman's International Stadium
Hope for peace comes from faith in God, Pope Francis has said as he celebrated Mass on his first day in the Holy Land.
“The way of peace is strengthened if we realise that we are all of the same stock and members of one human family, if we never forget that we have the same heavenly father and are all his children, made in his image and likeness,” the Pope said in his homily at Amman’s International Stadium.
“Diversity of ideas and persons should not trigger rejection or prove an obstacle, for variety always enriches,” he told the congregation of some 30,000 people. “We ought, therefore, to show concrete signs of humility, fraternity, forgiveness and reconciliation.
“Peace is not something which can be bought,” the Pope said. “It is a gift to be sought patiently and to be crafted through the actions, great and small, of our everyday lives.”
“Let us ask the spirit to prepare our hearts to encounter our brothers and sisters, so that we may overcome our differences rooted in political thinking, language, culture and religion,” he said. “Let us ask him to anoint our whole being with the oil of mercy, which heals the injuries caused by mistakes, misunderstandings and disputes.”
Under blue skies, with the air stirred by a dry breeze, Pope Francis celebrated Mass in Italian, with readings and responses read in Arabic.
Before the pope’s arrival, clusters of yellow and white balloons representing the Vatican flag colors were released in the sky above the stadium, followed by those of the Jordanian flag – white, red, black and green – amid the cheering crowd.
As he arrived, the Pope embraced children, the sick and others who ventured closed to a fence to catch his attention. Before he spoke, white doves were released into the sky, adding to participants’ excitement.
The Pope acknowledged the presence in the congregation of “many Christian refugees from Palestine, Syria and Iraq”, asking them to take his greetings to their families and communities, “and assure them of my closeness”.
An estimated 1.3 million refugees now live in Jordan, alongside a permanent population of 6.4 million. The pope was scheduled to meet with young refugees following the Mass, after a visit to a traditional site of Jesus’ baptism near the Jordan River.
Pope Francis also acknowledged the approximately 1,400 Jordanian children making their first Communion at the Mass. The children were dressed in white, with many of the boys wearing baseball caps in the gold and white colors of the Vatican flag.
Miram Dabbaneh was excited that her nine-year-old son was among those receiving his first Communion.
“It’s a blessing for Jordan and the Middle East for [Pope Francis] to come,” she said. “In Jordan, we Christians feel safe because of the presence of His Majesty King Abdullah.”
At the end of Mass, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem addressed the Pope in Italian, calling the Catholic Church a source of unity in Jordan, both among Christians and the general population. But he lamented the “true human haemorrhage” of Christian emigration to other Arab countries and North America.
The Christian population of Jordan is estimated at four to six per cent.
Pope Francis’s exit from the stadium was slightly disrupted, as several bishops insisted on greeting him rather than taking their places in the recessional procession.
Among those in the crowd was Collette Aoush, a Catholic youth leader from Lebanon, who travelled to see the Pope with about 1,000 Lebanese.
“He is the person who will bring peace, humility, and a big message to the world, especially Christians,” she said. “We hope Pope Francis will be a saint.”
Jordanian businessman Omar Naajad, who traveled from Dubai especially for the visit, said Pope Francis “is what the Church needs nowadays”.
“He’s inclusive. He doesn’t exclude anybody from the church whether you’re Muslim, Christian, Buddist or homosexual. That’s what I always felt the Church needs,” he said. “It’s really wonderful to have such a Pope, although I am Orthodox.”
Canadian Serena Myrholm saw the Pope in Rome at Easter and said she and her husband really wanted to see him in Amman, where they work as teachers in an international school.
“He’s an example of what we should be regardless of background,” said the native of Vancouver, British Columbia.
“We really love his model of humility for the rest of humankind,” said her husband, Bradley Myrholm.
An US defence contractor from New Orleans on temporary assignment in Jordan also attended the Mass.
“It’s amazing to see the Pope in a Muslim country rather than a country dominated by Christianity,” said the 31-year-old, who identified himself only as Dennis. “It’s amazing!”
The Pope’s fast-paced three-day trip to the Holy Land was also scheduled to take him to Israel and the Palestinian territories. It was organised to mark the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s meeting in Jerusalem with Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, considered first among equals by Orthodox bishops. Pope Francis was scheduled to commemorate that event with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in Jerusalem May 25.
Dale Gavlak contributed to this story
The full text of Pope Francis’s homily:
In today’s Gospel, we hear Jesus promise the disciples: “I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Paraclete, to be with you forever” (Jn 14:16). The first Paraclete is Jesus himself; the other is the Holy Spirit.
We are not far from where the Holy Spirit descended with power on Jesus of Nazareth after his baptism by John in the River Jordan (cf. Mt 3:16) and today I will go there. Today’s Gospel, and this place to which, by God’s grace, I have come as a pilgrim, invite us to meditate on the Holy Spirit and on all that he has brought about in Christ and in us. In a word, we can say that the Holy Spirit carries out three actions – he prepares, he anoints and he sends.
At the baptism, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus to prepare him for his mission of salvation, the mission of one who is a Servant, humble and meek, ready to share and give himself completely. Yet the Holy Spirit, present from the beginning of salvation history, had already been at work in Jesus from the moment of his conception in the virginal womb of Mary of Nazareth, by bringing about the wondrous event of the Incarnation: “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, will overshadow you – the Angel said to Mary – and you will give birth to a son who will be named Jesus” (cf. Lk 1:35). The Holy Spirit had then acted in Simeon and Anna on the day of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple (cf. Lk 2:22). Both were awaiting the Messiah, and both were inspired by the Holy Spirit. Simeon and Anna, upon seeing the child, knew immediately that he was the one long awaited by the people. They gave prophetic expression to the joy of encountering the Redeemer and, in a certain sense, served as a preparation for the encounter between the Messiah and the people.
These various works of the Holy Spirit are part of a harmonious action, a sole divine plan of love. The mission of the Holy Spirit, in fact, is to beget harmony – he is himself harmony – and to create peace in different situations and between different people. Diversity of ideas and persons should not trigger rejection or prove an obstacle, for variety always enriches. So today, with fervent hearts, we invoke the Holy Spirit and ask him to prepare the path to peace and unity.
The Holy Spirit also anoints. He anointed Jesus inwardly and he anoints his disciples, so that they can have the mind of Christ and thus be disposed to live lives of peace and communion. Through the anointing of the Spirit, our human nature is sealed with the holiness of Jesus Christ and we are enabled to love our brothers and sisters with the same love which God has for us. We ought, therefore, to show concrete signs of humility, fraternity, forgiveness and reconciliation. These signs are the prerequisite of a true, stable and lasting peace. Let us ask the Father to anoint us so that we may fully become his children, ever more conformed to Christ, and may learn to see one another as brothers and sisters. Thus, by putting aside our grievances and divisions, we can show fraternal love for one another. This is what Jesus asks of us in the Gospel: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Paraclete, to be with you for ever” (Jn 14:15-16).
Lastly, the Holy Spirit sends. Jesus is the one who is sent forth, filled with the Spirit of the Father. Anointed by the same Spirit, we also aresent as messengers and witnesses of peace. The world has much need of us as messengers of peace, witnesses of peace! The world needs this. The world asks us to bring peace and to be a sign of peace!
Peace is not something which can be bought or sold; peace is a gift to be sought patiently and to be “crafted” through the actions, great and small, of our everyday lives. The way of peace is strengthened if we realize that we are all of the same stock and members of the one human family; if we never forget that we have the same Father in heaven and that we are all his children, made in his image and likeness.
It is in this spirit that I embrace all of you: the Patriarch, my brother bishops and priests, the consecrated men and women, the lay faithful, and the many children who today make their First Holy Communion, together with their families. I also embrace with affection the many Christian refugees; let us all earnestly turn our attention to them, to the many Christian refugees from Palestine, Syria and Iraq: please bring my greeting to your families and communities, and assure them of my closeness.
Dear friends! Dear brothers and sisters! The Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the Jordan and thus inaugurated his work of redemption to free the world from sin and death. Let us ask the Spirit to prepare our hearts to encounter our brothers and sisters, so that we may overcome our differences rooted in political thinking, language, culture and religion. Let us ask him to anoint our whole being with the oil of his mercy, which heals the injuries caused by mistakes, misunderstandings and disputes. And let us ask him for the grace to send us forth, in humility and meekness, along the demanding but enriching path of seeking peace.
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