For the Syrian Christians who will greet Francis, his presence is a chance to show the world their hopelessness as the conflict drags on. "We are very happy because he will see Christians in the Arab world, he will see us and see our suffering," said Nazik Malko, a Syrian Orthodox Christian refugee from Maaloula who will be among the 600 or so people to greet the pope at Bethany beyond the Jordan. "We wish that peace will be restored in the whole world, and in Syria."
Francis will visit a Palestinian refugee camp Sunday when he travels from Amman directly to the West Bank city of Bethlehem. It’s the first time a pope has landed in the West Bank rather than Tel Aviv first, and Palestinian officials are eager to show Francis the limbo endured by generations of Palestinians forced or driven out in the war over Israel’s 1948 creation. Today, along with their descendants, these refugees make up more than 5 million people scattered across the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
Cardinal Parolin, the Vatican No. 2, said Francis would emphasize the Vatican’s longstanding position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: "The right of Israel to exist and enjoy peace and security inside its internationally recognized borders, and the right of the Palestinian people to have a sovereign, independent homeland, freedom of movement and the right to live in dignity."
Technically, the main reason for the trip is for Francis and the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians to mark the 50th anniversary of a historic meeting in Jerusalem by their predecessors which ended 900 years of Catholic-Orthodox estrangement. That highlight will come on Sunday, when Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I preside over a joint prayer service in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where Christians believe Jesus was crucified and resurrected. Representatives of other churches also will be present, including Cardinal Bechara Rai, the first leader of Lebanon’s largest Christian sect, the Maronite Catholic Church, to visit Jerusalem since Israel captured the city’s eastern sector. Lebanon bans its citizens from visiting Israel or having business dealings with Israelis.
Francis will spend Monday in Jerusalem, visiting the grand mufti of Jerusalem and Israel’s chief rabbis, albeit separately. He’ll also pray at the Western Wall and visit the Holocaust memorial at Yad Vashem and will become the first pope to lay a wreath of flowers on Mount Herzl, named for the founder of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl. He returns to the Vatican Monday night.
Here is the text of the Pope’s speech at the royal palace in Amman:
Dear Brother Bishops,
I thank God for granting me this opportunity to visit the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in the footsteps of my predecessors Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. I am grateful to His Majesty King Abdullah II for his warm words of welcome, as I recall with pleasure our recent meeting in the Vatican. I also greet the members of the Royal Family, the government and the people of Jordan, this land so rich in history and with such great religious significance for Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Jordan has offered a generous welcome to great numbers of Palestinian and Iraqi refugees, as well as to other refugees from troubled areas, particularly neighboring Syria, ravaged by a conflict which has lasted all too long. Such generosity merits the appreciation and support of the international community. The Catholic Church, to the extent of its abilities, has sought to provide assistance to refugees and those in need, especially through Caritas Jordan.