Pope Benedict: A visit that took place ten years ago

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Pope Benedict: A visit that took place ten years ago

By Fr. Dr. Rif’at Bader

These days mark the 10th anniversary of the historic pilgrimage of Pope Benedict XVI to the Holy Land whose first leg was in Jordan and Palestine.

Memories of the events of the visit are still fresh including the addresses delivered at Amman Airport by both Pope Benedict and King Abdullah II who nine years ago welcomed Pope of the Great Jubilee, John Paul II, and participated in his funeral following his death in April 2005. He also visited Pope Benedict XVI in September 2005 to congratulate him on his election as head of the Catholic Church. It was a reciprocal visit undertaken by intellectual German-born Pope, Ratzinger, to the wise Hashemite King.

The Pope's visit a decade ago focused on strengthening the fraternal diplomatic relations between the Hashemite Kingdom and the Holy See as well as on promoting the archaeological sites in Jordan such as Mount Nebo--where the basilica was under restoration-- and the Baptism Site where he laid the cornerstone of the Catholic church, namely the Church of the Baptism of Lord Jesus Christ. What increased the pride and joy of people was the presence of His Majesty King Abdullah II and Queen Rania Al Abdullah.

The visit to Jordan was designed to deepen the role of the ecclesiastical institutions that indiscriminately serve the Jordanian society. This was revealed through Pope Benedict's visit to Our Lady of Peace Center where he met with a large crowd of youth, children and people with disabilities staying at the center. This was also manifested in laying and blessing the cornerstone of Madaba University, which was later, renamed the American University of Madaba.

Among the important points was the Pope's prayer at the Greek Catholic Cathedral of St. George and his meeting with various church orders and associations. Furthermore, his massive Holy Mass at the Amman International Stadium, in addition to his visit and address at Al Hussein Ben Talal Mosque had an utmost importance in deepening Muslim-Christian relations in Jordan and the world.

After visiting Jordan, the importance of the papal visit lies in visiting the River Jordan from the other side as well as visiting Bethlehem, noble Jerusalem, and Duhaisheh Camp for Refugees where he closely followed the suffering of the Palestinian people who are still awaiting the emergence of the dawn of justice and independence. The Vatican or the Holy See diplomacy was not absent from the suffering of this fraternal people.

I was honored to be the spokesperson during the three papal visits. The third papal visit to the Holy Land took place during complex regional and international situations witnessing policies designed to eradicate terrorism which preceded the so-called Arab Spring. Both of war on terrorism and the Arab Spring led to shedding of much blood and to forcibly displacing numerous Christians from the Middle East. This triggered Pope Benedict to call for an urgent meeting of the Middle East Christians which was known as the Synod of the Church in the Middle East. The fruit of Synod was the signing in Lebanon in September 2012 of the Apostolic Exhortation in which he states, “A Middle East without Christians, or with only a few Christians, would no longer be the Middle East,” and “there is a need to move beyond tolerance to religious freedom… since religious freedom is the pinnacle of all other freedoms.”

Pope Benedict preferred to resort to solitude, thinking, and prayer. He tendered his resignation, then Pope Francis visited us five years ago whom we will visit at the end of this month. However, Pope Benedict's visit remains engraved in memory in its capacity as one of the most important historic landmarks in our Holy Land.

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