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Pope holds mass in Jordan

May 24, 2014

Pope Francis has held an open-air mass at the main international stadium in the Jordanian capital, Amman. He has also met with some of the refugees hosted by Jordan.

Pope Francis waves to the faithful as he leaves after a mass at Amman International Stadium May 24, 2014. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed
Image: Reuters

Pope Francis was welcomed on Saturday by some 20,000 people in the Amman stadium as he arrived to hold a mass lasting about three hours.

Many in the crowd waved Jordanian and Vatican flags, while others passed him babies and toddlers to be held and blessed as he entered the stadium for his biggest public event in the country before his three-day Middle East trip takes him on to the Palestinan territories and Israel.

"Peace is not something which can be bought; it is a gift to be sought patiently and to be crafted through the actions, great and small, of our everyday lives," he told the crowd.

In a speech at Jordanian King Abdullah's royal palace in Amman, Pope Francis called for an end to Syria's civil war, saying the country was being "ravaged by a conflict which has lasted all too long."

He said there were "continuing grave tensions" which required regional political leaders to find solutions which would bring lasting peace.

"This great goal urgently requires that a peaceful solution be found to the crisis in Syria, as well as a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," the pope said in what was his first speech of the visit.

Call for tolerance

He also urged greater tolerance towards the Christian minority in the Middle East.

"Religious freedom is in fact a fundamental human right and I cannot fail to express my hope that it will be upheld throughout the Middle East and the entire world," he said.

Thousands of Christians around the world are killed every year because of their faith, and persecution is growing particularly in Syria and Iraq, where radical Islamists are involved in the conflicts afflicting the countries.

Later, King Abdullah himself drove the pontiff to the reputed site of Jesus' baptism in the River Jordan, then took him on to speak and pray with some of the 600,000 refugees that have been taken in by Jordan, many of them from Syria.

On Sunday, the pope will fly across the River Jordan to Bethlehem, where Christians believe Jesus was born. He will hold a mass there before beginning a two-day tour of the Palestinian territories and Israel.

Pope Francis has said the main reason for his visit is a historic meeting in Jerusalem with the Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, and "to pray for peace in that land, which has suffered so much."

tj/lw (AFP, dpa)