Church has contributed and wants to contribute to peace in the Middle East, says Pope

In Amman, first stage in his trip to the Holy Land, Benedict XVI talks about an “alliance of civilisations between the West and the Muslim world”. He praises Jordan for respecting religious freedom, encouraging dialogue and holding back extremism.

Amman (AsiaNews) – “Prayer,” shaping “people’s conscience” and using “reason to help understand what is truly needed for peace” are what the Catholic Church has contributed and wants to contribute to the troubled Middle East, Benedict XVI said in the plane that brought him to Amman, Jordan, on the first stage of his first trip to the Holy Land. Because the Church is not a political power it can better understand what is needed for peace, he explained. The Church did so in the past and can do so in the future.

Peace is the Middle East’s number one problem, if the number of questions journalists addressed to the Pope is any indication.

“We are not a political power but a spiritual force and this spiritual force is a reality that can contribute to progress in the peace process,” the Pontiff said. It can do so by relying on three means. Indeed “as believers we are convinced that prayer is a real force, it opens the world to God. We are convinced that God listens and can affect history,” he explained. Secondly, “we can shape people’s conscience, their capacity to understand the truth.” Finally, we can use reason to help people understand what principles are true.

Expanding his reflection to include the dialogue between religions, he said that Christians and Jews share the same roots and scriptures, but 2,000 years of distinct traditions and language have led to words having different meanings; inevitably this can lead to misunderstandings.

Therefore, efforts must be made to understand the other’s language, thus enhancing understanding, even making people “love one another,” something that applies to Islam as well. In fact Benedict XVI said he was the co-founder of a foundation whose purpose is to promote dialogue between the three religions and publish their respective holy texts.

On his arrival in the Jordanian capital, the Holy Father spoke about peace, religious freedom and dialogue as well “furthering an alliance of civilisations between the West and the Muslim world”.

Welcomed by King Abdullah II and Queen Rania, the Pope praised the Muslim country’s openness towards Catholics who are allowed to build their own places of worship.

“Religious freedom is, of course, a fundamental right, and it is my fervent hope and prayer that respect for the inalienable rights and dignity of every man and woman will come to be increasingly affirmed and defended, not only throughout the Middle East, but in every part of the world,” he said.

In his address the Holt Father praised Jordan for its role in the peace process, its respect for religious freedom and its role “in promoting a better understanding of the virtues proclaimed by Islam”.

What better place for this than Queen Alia Airport where Pope John Paul II was welcomed by King Abdullah himself on 20 March 2000 and where Pope Paul VI was welcomed by King Hussein, the current monarch’s father, on 4 January 1964.

In mentioning “the pioneering efforts for peace in the region made by the late King Hussein,” Benedict XVI drew a laud applause. “May his commitment to the resolution of the region’s conflicts continue to bear fruit in efforts to promote lasting peace and true justice for all who live in the Middle East.”

King Hussein visited the Vatican several times. A delegation from the Holy See attended the king’s funeral on 8 February 1999 and King Abdullah himself and Queen Rania took part in John Paul II’s funeral on 8 April 2005.

On that occasion the Jordanian king paid tribute to His Holiness for encouraging tolerance, dialogue and human rights around the world, and bridging the gap between believers of various religions.

“The Kingdom of Jordan has long been at the forefront of initiatives to promote peace in the Middle East and throughout the world, encouraging inter-religious dialogue, supporting efforts to find a just solution to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, welcoming refugees from neighbouring Iraq, and seeking to curb extremism,” said the Pope.

Here too the reference is not accidental. Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal, an adviser to King Abdullah, sponsored “A Common Word Between Us and You”, a letter signed by 138 Muslim scholars.

“At one level,” the King said, “it is our simple, shared humanity, which binds us in a world of interdependence. But, for we who are believers in the One God, there is an even deeper basis for understanding. That basis is the commandment expressed in the Holy Scriptures of Muslim, Christian, and Jew: to love God, and love one’s neighbour.”

A good start for the dialogue the Pope wants to pursue in the coming days.