These days mark the 60th anniversary of the first papal visit outside the Italian border, as Pope Paul VI’s plane touched down on January 4, 1964, at Marka Airport and King Hussein Ibn Talal welcomed him in a way that befits a great guest of Jordan.
His Majesty the King, may his soul rest in peace, bid His Holiness the Pope farewell and presented him with an olive tree as a sign of gratitude for the friendship between the Holy See and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. The tree is still planted in the Vatican Gardens and it bears good fruits.
As for the schedule of the visit at that time, it included-- following the official meetings with His Majesty the King-- travelling by car specially provided by His Majesty the King to the guest pilgrim Paul VI, where he proceeded to the Jordan River, where the Baptism Site is located, passed through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem where he prayed at the Mount of Olives and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. He then proceeded to Nazareth, the site of Angel Gabrielle's Annunciation of Virgin Mary. Then, he returned to Bethlehem to celebrate Epiphany marked that year. Then, from Marka Airport, he returned to the Vatican.
The elderly still remember this visit with great joy and pride, and remember how the weather was very cold, but that did not prevent them from being jointly, in Jordan and Palestine, massed to welcome him three years prior to the occupation.
The message conveyed by Paul VI has all the time been of great significance because it paved the way for papal visits, not only to our country but to the entire world, because it was the first visit by a Pontiff outside Italy, where the Pontiff was considered as a permanent resident within the walls of the Vatican, and leaves Italy on very rare occasions.
Today we remember this visit after Pope Francis came to us ten years ago, in memory of the golden jubilee (50 years) of this visit. Prior to that, the arrivals included Pope Benedict in 2009, and Pope John Paul II in 2000. All of them came during the reign of Abdullah II Ibn Al-Hussien, Abu Hussein, as all of them walks in the footsteps of Pope Paul VI with visits starting in Jordan, then Palestine, so that the visits constitutes an “apostolic pilgrimage to the Holy Land,” which makes us feel proud that we are the people of this holy land, and that we invite everyone to visit it from all over the world. It is worth noting that two of the four popes became saints, namely John Paul II and Paul VI. It is impressive that the diamond jubilee commemorates the 30th anniversary of the establishment of official diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in 1994, namely during the reign of King Hussein Ibn Talal.
It is painful, on the other hand, that the diamond jubilee celebrations are marked while Gaza and Palestine are suffering from tragedies, and the number of pilgrims coming to our holy country is receding as a natural result of the aggression against Gaza. We hope that the prayers of pilgrims around the world will continue not only for forging an imminent ending the current aggression, but also for the overall ending of occupation, so that groups of pilgrims would once again address us in Arabic, just as Pope Paul VI did: “Peace be upon you, and goodbye.”