Pope Benedict XVI Visits Mount Nebo, Mosque in Jordan (Update 3)

May 9 (Bloomberg) — Pope Benedict XVI visited a mosque and celebrated Mass in Jordan during a weeklong trip to the Middle East aimed at easing the Vatican’s ties with Muslims and Jews.

The pontiff toured the King Hussein Bin Talal Mosque, which occupies 60,000 square meters (197,000 square feet) and serves 6,000 worshippers, after viewing Mount Nebo, a hilltop with religious significance to Christians, Jews and Muslims on his second day in Jordan. He later celebrated Mass in the Greek- Melkite Cathedral of Saint-Georges in Amman.

“Muslims and Christians, precisely because of the burden of our common history, so often marked by misunderstanding, must today strive to be known and recognized as worshippers of God’s faithful to prayer, eager to uphold and live by the almighty’s decrees,” the pope said at the mosque.

A member of Jordan’s royal family thanked the pontiff for expressing “regret” for comments he made at Germany’s University of Regensburg in 2006. The Pope had cited a 14th- century text saying that the Prophet Mohammed brought things that were “evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

“I thank your Holiness for the ‘regret’ you expressed after the Regensburg lecture, for the hurt caused by this lecture to Muslims,” Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal, a cousin of Jordan’s King Abdullah, said in a speech at the Amman mosque. “Muslims also especially appreciate the clarification by the Vatican that what was said in the lecture did not reflect your Holiness’s own opinion but rather was simply a citation in an academic lecture.”

No Apology

The pope’s statement didn’t go far enough for some critics. The Islamic Action Front, a bloc affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, had said the pope was “not welcome” in Jordan because he hasn’t apologized for comments linking Islam and the Prophet Muhammad to violence.

“The apology did not take place and neither did the affirmation of respect for the Prophet Muhammad or for Islamic values,” Sheikh Hamza Mansour, a leading Islamist scholar and member of the Front’s bloc in Jordan’s parliament, said in an interview today with Bloomberg News. “His clarification of his past comments has not been convincing.”

During the rest of his trip, the Pope will visit the site renowned as the scene of Jesus’s baptism on the Jordan River, celebrate masses in Jerusalem, Nazareth and Bethlehem and meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres.

Bishop, Latin Liturgy

The Vatican canceled the pope’s planned meeting with an Israeli Arab mayor after the country’s tourism minister accused the mayor of promoting terrorism.

In the four years since he was chosen pope, Benedict has also angered Jews by promising to lift the excommunication of a bishop who denies the Holocaust took place and allowing priests to carry out a Latin liturgy that includes a prayer calling for the conversion of Jews.

The pope has made overtures to both Jews and Muslims, including a 2006 visit to the Auschwitz death camp in Poland and a 2005 tour of the Cologne synagogue destroyed in the Kristallnacht, the coordinated 1938 attack on Jews in Germany. In 2006, he became the first pope to turn toward the holy city of Mecca, while praying alongside Mufti Mustafa Cagrici in Istanbul.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Massoud A. Derhally in Amman, Jordan at email