‘Courage’, the Pope tells Christians in Jordan

May Christ “give you his courage”: that was Benedict XVI’s wish and mandate to the 20,000 Catholics who filled the International Stadium of Amman for mass this morning which gave the Pope the opportunity to underline “prophetic chrism” of women, particularly in this region.

It is the only public mass to be celebrated by the Pope in this nation. Jordan – which conceded a holiday to Christians today – is in a certain way a oasis for the regions Christians, who count a little over 100 thousand, 2% of the entire population, but who are free to profess their faith, build churches and schools and now even universities. All around the situation is completely different: from tight control in Syria to violence in Iraq. And there are 70 thousand Christians among the 700,000 Iraqi refugees in Jordan. They too were present at the mass, calling out loud in greeting to their Pope. Among the 200 children receiving their first Holy Communion today were 40 Iraqi boys and girls, some of whom received the sacrament from Benedict XVI.

I come, the Pope told them, “to encourage you to persevere in faith, hope and love, in fidelity to the ancient traditions and the distinguished history of Christian witness which you trace back to the age of the Apostles. The Catholic community here is deeply touched by the difficulties and uncertainties which affect all the people of the Middle East. May you never forget the great dignity which derives from your Christian heritage”. Already on the flight from Rome to Amman, Benedict XVI had told journalists that his visit aimed at encouraging Christians in the region to “find the courage, humility and patience to stay in these countries and offer their contribution for the future”.

“May the courage of Christ our shepherd – he added today – inspire and sustain you daily in your efforts to bear witness to the Christian faith and to maintain the Church’s presence in the changing social fabric of these ancient lands. 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; the courage to engage in dialogue and to work side by side with other Christians in the service of the Gospel and solidarity with the poor, the displaced, and the victims of profound human tragedies; the courage to build new bridges to enable a fruitful encounter of people of different religions and cultures, and thus to enrich the fabric of society. It also means bearing witness to the love which inspires us to “lay down” our lives in the service of others, and thus to counter ways of thinking which justify “taking” innocent lives.”. “Let us seek the intercession of Mother of Mercy and Queen of Peace – he added in the Regina Caeli – for all the families of these lands, that they may truly be schools of prayer and schools of love. Let us ask the Mother of the Church to look down in mercy upon all the Christians of these lands, and with the help of her prayers, may they be truly one in the faith they profess and the witness they bear”.

During the prayers of the faithful, a prayer for the “long desired peace” in the Middle East, Palestine and Lebanon. In one side of the stadium is a group of Lebanese invites the Pope to come visit them. Palestinian flags can be seen here and there.

Following the pope’s visit, a rabbi said that Jews are happy he visited the Holocaust memorial. “Everyone wants peace and it should come from open dialogue” between Israel and Palestinians. There were songs and chants in Arabic and Aramaic, and the great alter was decorated with images of Jesus, Mary, and John Baptist, patron saint of Jordan. The crowd paid close attention and was particularly careful to the proceedings within the stadium, the same place where in 200 John Paul II celebrated mass. Prince Ghazi Bin Mohammad, the king’s chief advisor on religious affairs was also present: one of the chief signatories of the Letter by 138 Muslim scholars and it was he who accompanied Benedict XVI during his visit to the “al-Hussein bin-Talal” Mosque in Amman. The Pope thanked him for his presence. During his address the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouuad Twal, also praised the stability offered by prolonged wise governance of the country and added that the Church in this land is witnessing a growth in vocations.

For the Church in the Holy Land this is the Year of the Family. Benedict XVI recalled this and spoke of the “strong Christian families of these lands” stressing the role of women in God’s plans. “How much the Church in these lands owes to the patient, loving and faithful witness of countless Christian mothers, religious Sisters, teachers, doctors and nurses! How much your society owes to all those women who in different and at times courageous ways have devoted their lives to building peace and fostering love! From the very first pages of the Bible, we see how man and woman, created in the image of God, are meant to complement one another as stewards of God’s gifts and partners in communicating his gift of life, both physical and spiritual, to our world.

Sadly, this God-given dignity and role of women has not always been sufficiently understood and esteemed. The Church, and society as a whole, has come to realize how urgently we need what the late Pope John Paul II called the “prophetic charism” of women (cf. Mulieris Dignitatem, 29) as bearers of love, teachers of mercy and artisans of peace, bringing warmth and humanity to a world that all too often judges the value of a person by the cold criteria of usefulness and profit. By its public witness of respect for women, and its defence of the innate dignity of every human person, the Church in the Holy Land can make an important contribution to the advancement of a culture of true humanity and the building of the civilization of love.”.

Benedict XVI also spoke of the “prophetic charism of women” in his Regina Caeli address. The supreme example of womanly virtue is the Blessed Virgin Mary: the Mother of Mercy and Queen of Peace. As we turn to her now, let us seek her maternal intercession for all the families of these lands, that they may truly be schools of prayer and schools of love”.

The people applaud, and then they slowly begin to leave. Reluctantly: tomorrow Benedict XVI will leave, destination Jerusalem.