Skip to main content

Crowds welcome Pope Francis to Jordan at start of Holy Land trip

By Laura Smith-Spark, Daniel Burke and Kevin Conlon, CNN
May 24, 2014 -- Updated 2236 GMT (0636 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Pope Francis calls for peace and harmony as he celebrates Mass in Amman
  • Pontiff urges a swift solution to the Syrian crisis and peace in the Middle East
  • "Highly symbolic" visit sends message of unity in volatile region, Vatican says
  • The Pope is also expected to call attention to the poor and downtrodden during his visit

(CNN) -- After a joyous welcome from the gathered faithful, Pope Francis celebrated Mass on Saturday at a stadium in Jordan on the first leg of a Holy Land trip intended to promote a message of unity.

His trip has been billed as a "pilgrimage for prayer," with its roots in faith, not politics.

But in a region where religion and politics are so closely intertwined, his every remark will take on an added significance.

The Holy Land trip, also taking in Bethlehem and Jerusalem, is the first for Francis as leader of the Roman Catholic Church, and just the fourth for any pontiff in the modern era.

Everything to know about Pope Francis

Thousands of believers packed the International Stadium in Amman for the Mass in what is a majority Muslim nation with a significant Christian community. Many cheered and waved as the Pope arrived.

Pope Francis prays in front of the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City on Monday, May 26. The Pope has been on a three-day historic trip to the Middle East, his first as leader of the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Francis prays in front of the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City on Monday, May 26. The Pope has been on a three-day historic trip to the Middle East, his first as leader of the Roman Catholic Church.
Pope visits Holy Land
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
>
>>
Photos: Pope visits Holy Land Photos: Pope visits Holy Land
Pope Francis greets the crowd as he arrives for his general audience at St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on Wednesday, October 8. With his penchant for crowd-pleasing and spontaneous acts of compassion, the Pope has earned high praise from fellow Catholics and others since he replaced Pope Benedict XVI in March 2013. Pope Francis greets the crowd as he arrives for his general audience at St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on Wednesday, October 8. With his penchant for crowd-pleasing and spontaneous acts of compassion, the Pope has earned high praise from fellow Catholics and others since he replaced Pope Benedict XVI in March 2013.
Pope Francis
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
>
>>
Photos: Pope Francis Photos: Pope Francis
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II meets with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Thursday, April 3. Over the years, she has also met many of his papal predecessors. Britain's Queen Elizabeth II meets with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Thursday, April 3. Over the years, she has also met many of his papal predecessors.
Popes and the Queen
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
>
>>
Popes and the Queen Popes and the Queen
President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Pope John XXIII are shown during a private audience at the Vatican, Dec. 6, 1959. President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Pope John XXIII are shown during a private audience at the Vatican, Dec. 6, 1959.
Popes and Presidents
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
>
>>
Popes and Presidents Popes and Presidents

In his homily, Francis spoke of the need for tolerance and diversity, and urged everyone to put aside grievances and divisions.

"The mission of the Holy Spirit is to beget harmony ... and to create peace in different situations and between different people," he said.

"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."

Christian refugees from Syria, Iraq and the Palestinian territories were among those present, and 1,400 children received their First Communion at the Mass.

Small groups of cheering supporters earlier lined the road, waving flags and chanting "Long live the Pope" as Francis' motorcade left the airport in Amman at the start of his three-day visit to the region.

The Pope's first stop was at al-Husseini Royal Palace in Amman, where he met with Jordan's King Abdullah II.

In televised remarks after that meeting, Francis paid tribute to Jordan's efforts to promote interfaith tolerance and to the welcome that the small nation has given to Palestinian refugees and, more recently, those fleeing war-torn Syria.

Francis said it was "necessary and urgent" that a peaceful solution was found to the crisis in Syria.

He also called for a "right solution with regard to the situation between Israel and the Palestinians." Middle East peace talks recently stalled despite high-profile efforts by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to push them forward.

"I grasp this opportunity to renew my esteem and respect for the Muslim community and show my appreciation for the work carried out by his Majesty the King, which is promoting further understanding between peoples of different faith and communities of different faith," Francis said.

His visit marks the 50th anniversary of the landmark meeting between Pope Paul VI and the then-spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, Patriarch Athenagoras, in Jerusalem.

Landmark meeting

While in Jordan, Francis will greet some of the 600,000 Syrians that have fled since the start of the civil war in 2011 as well as refugees from Iraq. He will also visit the River Jordan, where many Christians believe Jesus was baptized.

Accompanying Francis on his trip are Rabbi Abraham Skorka, who co-wrote a book with the pontiff, and Sheikh Omar Abboud, who leads Argentina's Muslim community.

The religion of the Pope's traveling companions, both of whom hail from his home country, Argentina, is no coincidence.

"It's highly symbolic, of course," said the Rev. Thomas Rosica, a consultant to the Vatican press office.

"But it also sends a pragmatic message to Muslims, Christians and Jews that it's possible to work together -- not as a system of checks and balances but as friends."

In Bethlehem, Frances will greet children from refugee camps, celebrate Mass in Manger Square, lunch with Palestinian families and visit the site of Jesus' birth. The Pope is expected to call for a Palestinian state, which has long been Vatican policy.

And in Jerusalem, the pontiff will meet the city's grand mufti and chief rabbis, visit the Western Wall and Yad Vashem, a memorial to the Holocaust, and lay a wreath on the grave of the founder of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl. He will also celebrate Mass at the site of the Last Supper.

Francis will meet with the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, in Bethlehem, and with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres while in Jerusalem.

Pope Francis in the Holy Land: 5 things to know

CNN's Delia Gallagher contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 0239 GMT (1039 HKT)
According to widely cited Italian media reports, Pope Francis recently told a young boy grieving the loss of a pet dog that "paradise is open to all God's creatures."
December 2, 2014 -- Updated 1659 GMT (0059 HKT)
Pope Francis said that modern slavery is a "crime against humanity" and is "unfortunately becoming worse and worse every day."
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 2231 GMT (0631 HKT)
Pope Francis is to make his first trip to the United States as the head of the Catholic Church next September.
A Vatican report says the church should welcome and appreciate gays, and offers a solution for divorced and remarried Catholics who want to receive Communion.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 1259 GMT (2059 HKT)
Using his strongest language to date, Pope Francis told Italian Mafia members that they are excommunicated from the Catholic Church.
September 11, 2014 -- Updated 2208 GMT (0608 HKT)
"Drug addiction is an evil, and with evil there can be no yielding or compromise," Pope Francis said.
June 20, 2014 -- Updated 1645 GMT (0045 HKT)
No topic has been off limits for Pope Francis so far.
June 14, 2014 -- Updated 2133 GMT (0533 HKT)
Pope Francis prefers not to use a bulletproof Popemobile because it is a glass "sardine can" that walls him off from people.
June 9, 2014 -- Updated 0458 GMT (1258 HKT)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres committed themselves to the quest for peace with Pope Francis.
May 23, 2014 -- Updated 1846 GMT (0246 HKT)
As the Holy Land prepares for a papal visit, Ivan Watson speaks to the man preparing to honor the pontiff with his food.
March 13, 2014 -- Updated 1631 GMT (0031 HKT)
Not a jot of doctrine has changed in the year since Francis became Pope. But there's more than one way to measure his impact.
February 22, 2014 -- Updated 1501 GMT (2301 HKT)
Pope Francis created 19 new cardinals in a ceremony in the Vatican's St. Peter's Basilica -- the first such appointments since he was elected pontiff.
March 13, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
"The spring evening in which Pope Francis was elected is an apt symbol of the beginning of his papacy and the years that will follow," writes a priest.
February 14, 2014 -- Updated 1605 GMT (0005 HKT)
In a gesture towards Valentine's Day, Pope Francis gave his advice on how to have a happy marriage before thousands of couples.
March 12, 2014 -- Updated 2010 GMT (0410 HKT)
Take a look at Pope Francis' first year in photos with our gallery.
November 7, 2013 -- Updated 2343 GMT (0743 HKT)
It was the embrace that melted hearts worldwide.
April 3, 2013 -- Updated 0959 GMT (1759 HKT)
On Easter Sunday, Pope Francis kisses and hugs disabled boy lifted up in the crowd.
April 11, 2013 -- Updated 1609 GMT (0009 HKT)
With the new pope himself a trained scientist, could the timing could be right for a new era of cooperation between the Vatican and science?
March 16, 2013 -- Updated 1856 GMT (0256 HKT)
Pope Francis is being painted as a humble and simple man, but his past is tinged with controversy.
ADVERTISEMENT