Vatican City, May 8, 2009 - The Holy Father departed from Rome's Fiumicino airport at 9.50 a.m. today. Following a four-hour flight, his plane landed at the Queen Alia airport in the Jordanian capital Amman, thus beginning his apostolic pilgrimage to the Holy Land which is due to last until 15 May. This is the twelfth trip outside Italy of his pontificate.

King Abdullah II and Queen Rania of Jordan welcomed the Pope as he descended from his aircraft. Also present to greet the Holy Father were the political and civil authorities of the country, the ordinaries of the Holy Land, patriarchs, bishops and a group of faithful.

"I come to Jordan as a pilgrim", said the Pope in his address, "to venerate holy places that have played such an important part in some of the key events of biblical history".

He then went on to express his appreciation for the "opportunity that Jordan's Catholic community enjoys to build public places of worship", describing it as "a sign of this country's respect for religion". In this context he continued: "Religious freedom is, of course, a fundamental human 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".

"My visit to Jordan gives me a welcome opportunity to speak of my deep respect for the Muslim community, and to pay tribute to the leadership shown by His Majesty the King in promoting a better understanding of the virtues proclaimed by Islam", he said.

"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". Pope Benedict then recalled "the pioneering efforts for peace in the region made by the late King Hussein. ... 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".

Referring then the to the seminar of the Catholic-Muslim Forum, held in Rome last autumn, during which participants examined the central role of the commandment of love in their respective religious traditions, the Pope concluded by expressing the hope that "this visit, and indeed all the initiatives designed to foster good relations between Christians and Muslims, will help us to grow in love for the Almighty and Merciful God, and in fraternal love for one another".


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