Pope Benedict visiting Jordan

Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Amman, Jordan yesterday to start his first papal visit to the Middle East.  His tour includes 4-days here in Jordan and 4-days in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Their Majesties King Abdullah II and Queen Rania greet HH Pope Benedict XVI at the airport (BBC news photo)

Their Majesties King Abdullah II and Queen Rania greet HH Pope Benedict XVI at the airport (BBC news photo)

There has been a bit of  buzz around here the past week or so.  The attitude is very positive.  Christians of all denominations seem to welcome the pope’s visit warmly and see it as a boon for Christianity in this Muslim nation (Christians only make up 3% of the 5.8 million people).  Muslim friends have also been positive (other than a few speculations about traffic problems), and remembered fondly the visit of John Paul II 9 years ago.

King Abdullah, Queen Rania, and Pope Benedict served coffee at airport reception on Friday.  (BBC News Photo)

King Abdullah, Queen Rania, and Pope Benedict served coffee at airport reception on Friday. (BBC News Photo)

I’m not sure who initiated this trip but papers here indicate that HM King Abdullah invited the Pope.  Jordan has long been a stronghold of peace and (comparative) religious tolerance in the region and it is not surprising that this is one of the first Middle Eastern countries for the Pope to visit.  I can think of three strategic purposes for the invitation from HM the king.

  1. A reflection of HM King Abdullah’s stance on Islam in the contemporary world and esp. it’s relationship to Christianity and Judaism.  In 2004 HM King Abdullah comissioned a number of Islamic Scholars to draft what would later become known as the “Amman Message.”  This appears to be a well thought out explanation of what some inthe West would decribe as “moderate” Islam.  A year later came the “Amman Interfaith Message” aimed at “establishing full acceptance and good will between [the three monotheistic religions].”
  2. To encourage the country’s (rumored to be) shrinking Christian population.  Although they only represent 3% of the population Christians are guaranteed 9% of parliamentary seats.  This rubs some the wrong way, but there is no doubt that Christians have (and continue) to play an important role in Jordanian society.  As in other parts of the Muslim world wealthier and more educated Christians are leaving for the West.  Perhaps this visit fromthe Pope will be beneficial in encouraging positive Muslim-Christian relations in the kingdom and remind those that are here of HM King Abdullah’s benevlonce towards them.
  3. Encouraging Christian pilgramage/tourism to Jordan.  There are many important Biblical sites in Jordan – the most significant of which is the Bethany Beyond the Jordan – speculated baptism site of Jesus.  There is excellent archaeological evidence for this being the place where John the Baptist was baptizing long ago.  25% of the countries tourists apparently pass through here, but Jordan would like to see more awareness of the rich Biblical history reflected in this and other sites (Mount Nebo, Pella, Madaba, Herod’s fortress at Machaerus, etc.) and increased tourist traffic at the Baptism site and throughout the Kingdom.
Pope Benedict greets muslim leaders in Amman (BBC photo)

Pope Benedict greets muslim leaders in Amman (BBC photo)

Of course, there have been a few detractors, most notably the Muslim Brotherhood.  They called for another public apology from the Pope re. his infamous 2006 speech which included a quote from a Medieval scholar that did not reflect favorably on Islam or their prophet, Muhammad.  The Vatican’s official stance was that the pope has already publicly stated long ago that he was sorry for the use of the quote an that it did not reflect his personal views on Islam.  While divisive at the time the speech and it’s aftermath led directly to the formation of the “Common Word between Us and You” initiative, which was an attempt by Christian leaders to reach out to Muslim leaders and bridge the gap of differences by focusing on some of the commonalities between the religions (namely loving God and loving neighbor).  Despite disappointment on the part of some about the lack of a new apology,BBC reports that:

…the top religious adviser to Jordan’s king thanked the Pope on Saturday for expressing regret for the speech.”I would like to thank you for expressing regret over the lecture in 2006, which hurt the feelings of Muslims,” Prince Ghazi bin Mohammed told the Pope.”We realise that the visit [to Jordan] comes as a goodwill gesture and a sign of mutual respect between Muslims and Christians.

Happy onlookers greet Pope Benedict in Amman (BBC news photo)

Happy onlookers greet Pope Benedict in Amman (BBC news photo)

I am intrigued about the ongoing reaction to the Pope’s visit.  He has already made the rounds of some important sites – Mt. Nebo (where Moses died), Madaba (a largely Christian (Catholic/Orthodox) town near Amman,  and Jordan’s largest mosque where he made a speech encouraging peace, cooperation, and dialogue between Islam and Christianity and eschewed religiously motivated violence on both sides.  As I noted reception here has been largely positive among Muslims and local Christians.

Pope Benedict greets onlookers near community center in Amman

Pope Benedict greets onlookers near community center in Amman

In the negative reaction category, there are of course a few Muslim who have spoke out as I mentioned before.  But suprising to me was the ambivalence about the Pope’s visit on the part of Wetern  (ex-pat) Christians.  Most of the ex-pats I know who are Christians are some flavor of Protestant.  Many of their reactions could be summed up by saying, “Oh?  The Pope?  Ok, that’s nice.”  I’m not sure what fuels this.  I mean, ok, I’m not Catholic but I think the Pope is a pretty important and influential world/religious leader.  His presence here in this predominately Muslim country is significant for the Christians here and perhaps has some implications for future Muslim-Christian dialogue and relationship.  Not to mention the Mid-East peace process as he visits both Israel and Palestine after his Jordan stop.  Ok, so he’s not the leader of my particular Christian tradition and he’s just a man like anyone else – but let’s have a little gravitas and sense of history people!

HM Queen Rania Greets Pope Benedict XVI at a royal Palace in Amman (ABC News Photo)

HM Queen Rania Greets Pope Benedict XVI at a royal Palace in Amman (ABC News Photo)

One last cool result of the Pope’s visit.  HM Queen Rania started a Tweet (Twitter feed for the uninitiated – or a kind of a one-line at a time electronic diary for the super-uninitiated) to give a running update on the pope’s visit. It’s a rare personal insight into the (semi)random thoughts of a world leader, “Special day here in Amman; not everyday pope drop s by 4 a visit ” or “Just listened to Pope’s speech. Our region so needs a message of Peace.”  She also mentions the movie she and the King were watching the night before the Pope arrived (Ghosts of Girlfriends Past – apparently His Majesty muttered “chickflick” under his breath at the suggestion), her failed attempt to get her 4-year old to don a suit, and posts a pic of HM King Abdullah and one of their son’s rolling out for an afternoon motorcycle ride.  I hope she continues to Tweet after the Pope leaves.   HM Queen Rania is already famous for her YouTube videos and seems to be a royal figure very much in tune with how to communicate in this electronic era.

Twitter pic form HM Queen Rania of HM King Abdullah II(and son) on motorcylces

Twitter pic form HM Queen Rania of HM King Abdullah II(and son) on motorcylces

This and other of HM Queen Rania’s pics can be found here.

Well, I need to wrap this up soon.  Sorry for the typos and if there are any bad links.  Had to type this quickly as I need to go to bed soon.  Pope Benedict is giving an open mass at the largest sports stadium tomorrow.  I’m gonna go check it out.  The gates open at 4 AM and close at 8 AM.  Mass starts at 10 AM.  Should be a very, very intriguing morning.  Oh, btw for security reasons you can’t bring sharp objects, food, or a cell phone.  I’m joining a couple of friends and we’re going to try and get there by 6 AM.   It’s 11 PM – better go.  I’ll hopefully get another update posted late tomorrow.

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6 Responses

  1. […] Pope Benedict visiting Jordan  […]

  2. Yeah it’s a funny thing the line that world leaders have to (have to? maybe not have, but certainly do) walk between openness and secrecy. I certainly appreciate the feel of the approach of Prez Obama and Queen Rania – it seems more open. But methinks they are both masters of guarding what needs to be guarding and being open about what needs to be/can be in the open. They just don’t make you feel alienated and like a dufus in the process.

    I hear you re. power structures and Christianity. No doubt that Jesus intended there to be leadership in the church but too often that leadership has seemed to look like something man designed rather than God.

    Hey keep a look out for my next post – it’s basically the Pope part II – my thoughts on the mass he conducted in Amman last Sunday. I know – way late, right? That’s what two sick kids, an oral exam, and a couple of presentations will do to ya.

  3. I understand the ability that YouTube and the internet in general has given people to have more “accessible lives”, but what I meant was not even that it was through Twitter and YouTube, or whatever… I simply mean that most world leaders, including most past presidents (with the exclusion of a couple) tended to live more secretive lives, wanted to avoid the public eye for anything except politics and positive PR.

    Again, not that I don’t see the absolute logic in that. Just saying that it’s refreshing to see any world leaders attempting to be more transparent. It makes me a little more…I don’t know…comfortable? Less nervous?

    But my statement about the popes…I was out of line. I take a very strong stance, personally, against any person taking any position of influence or as “moral arbiter” for a religion as very ANTI-Christianity. Or rather, anti-biblical Christianity. It’s perfectly fine for Judaism in general, as that was kind of the setup given by God to the house of Levi. So okay there. And for other religions, it may make sense for their history, but for Christianity, it seems counter-intuitive, and dangerous.

    One person, with that much influence, and that much sway over what the masses think of an entire family of believers… I just don’t like it. I’m sure the dude’s nice enough, and I’m not saying he’s evil or something. I just don’t like that structure. But then again, I’m not Catholic, (duh, really? 🙂 ) so there’s my bias there. I have nothing against Catholics in general, just the power structure that encourages people of that faith to be lax, because someone “more important” is making the tough decisions… Again, just my opinion, and it’s a tough line one. And probably counter-productive too… but it’s also how I feel… I gotta wrestle with that one a bit, I suppose.

  4. Correction – YouTube was founded in 2005. Hard to believe!

  5. Hey otakudad! I agree re. HM Queen Rania and President Obama and their desire for transparency and communication. It’s really over the past 5 years or so that the internet has truly made open communication the thing it is today. I mean YouTube was only founded in 2004. As the first “YouTube president” George Bush didn’t really seem to know how to utilize this kind of communication technology. President Obama and HM Queen Rania have seemed to be more eager and proficient adopters. Perhaps Obama and his team has had a few years to think through how they will use the internet as a means for communication before actually being in office.

    On another note I’m not sure what I said about papal history that there is to disagree with, simply that the popes have been important and influential world/religious leader. Whether their influence has always been good or not, and the extent of their individual importance would be debatable. I’m not an expert on papal history but it seems that there have been very good popes, very bad popes and probably a number of mediocre one’s. No matter what it’s hard to deny that they have had a significant historical role.

    And in this part of the world it seems that the Pope may be given more recognition as a Christian leader than we would back home. As outsiders to the diversity of Christianity, it is probably easy for Muslims to identify one of the most visible Christian leaders as THE Christian leader. In which case whether you or I think he speaks for us individually, practically speaking he may if Islamic leaders think he does.

    I’m not sure if that makes sense or not. I guess what I am trying to say that on the individual (micro) level of religion and faith the Pope’s leadership probably has little direct significance for you and me (and other non-Catholics). However on a macro-scale perhaps the Pope’s leadership is more significant than we realize on a daily basis, partly due to the importance and roles that others ascribe to him.

    That probably didn’t make anymore sense than the last paragraph =).

    Anyways – thanks as always for reading and commenting – it’s always good to hear from you!

  6. I think Queen Rania should be lauded by her followers and by the world for her desire to speak openly with her people and the world stage.

    It’s one of the things I really like about President Obama as well. Even though, of course, all things have to be measured and filtered to a certain extent (these ARE world leaders of course!), but the idea that these people desire to communicate directly with the people, when they clearly do not have to do so, is quite encouraging.

    While I don’t think I share your perspective on papal history, I do recognize the value of Christianity and Islam finding ways to love each other and respect each other’s desire to find and worship God in earnest. I also find it encouraging how the kingdom is trying to show the world that Islam is NOT a religion of violence, and that it is simply a people trying to respect and obey their god. It’s still sickening to me, how many people in the US hold to this notion that all of Islam’s adherents are violent and fanatical.

    Then again, I suppose the same could be said for Christianity: that a few loud voices dictate an image for the whole, even when that image is completely contrary to the truth of the whole.

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