Amman (AsiaNews) – Faithful to their baptismal promises, in the “Middle East, tragically signed by tragic suffering, by years of violence and unresolved issues, Christians are called to offer their contribution, inspired by Christ, to reconciliation and peace, forgiveness and generosity”. That is Benedict XVI’s last message from Jordan on the eve of his departure for Israel, to the Christians of the Middle East. “Promote dialogue and understanding in civil society – he added – particularly when you are claiming your legitimate rights”.
The Pope is “in good form, relaxed and pleased with the welcome” said Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi noted speaking to journalists after the end of mass this morning here in Amman. He was in good form also this afternoon in his last appointment on Jordanian soil: Bethany beyond Jordan, one of two sites which claim to be the site where Christ was baptised. However recent archaeological digs have revealed one of the most important discoveries in biblical religious history, more than 20 churches, caves and baptismal basins which date back to the Roman and Byzantine periods. The Pope himself while he was on Mount Nebo, looking out across the Jordan Valley asked about the certainties surrounding the site of Our Lord’s baptism, but did not comment on the archaeological find.
Benedict XVI was accompanied his tour of the ruins by King Abdullah and Queen Rania, on board a helicopter and then by car, confirming Fr Lombardi’s comments on the warm welcome reserved him. Jordan has given great importance to this site, and hopes it will soon be inserted into the itinerary of pilgrimages to the Holy Land.
The Pope also blessed the foundation stones of a Maronite and Greek-Melchite church. “The memory of Christ’s own baptism - he reflected - is brought vividly before us in this place. Jesus stood in line with sinners and accepted John’s baptism of penance as a prophetic sign of his own passion, death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. Down through the centuries, many pilgrims have come to the Jordan to seek purification, renew their faith and draw closer to the Lord”.
“The Sacrament of Baptism, drawing its power from Christ’s death and resurrection, will be cherished especially by the Christian communities that gather in the new church buildings. May the Jordan always remind you that you have been washed in the waters of baptism and have become members of the family of Jesus. Your lives, in obedience to his word, are being transformed into his image and likeness. As you strive to be faithful to your baptismal commitment of conversion, witness and mission, know that you are being strengthened by the gift of the Holy Spirit".
Thus the Jordan leg of the Pope’s journey ends. Tomorrow there is only a short farewell ceremony. In a “brief analyses”, Fr Lombardi said that “in these three days we have achieved our main goals: the Pope meeting with the people of Jordan, the Sate and its leaders and as we have said it was a very positive and cordial encounter. As pastor of the Catholic Church he was able to meet with the faithful of his community, experience moments of intense prayer together with them and encourage them in their commitments”.
Moreover, “there were new steps forward in dialogue with the Muslim world; there were gestures of friendship and discourses of profound and important content”. The pilgrimage towards the Holy Land had a “meaningful beginning on Mount Nebo”, likewise the “important visit to the site of Our Lord’s Baptism”. “Personally I would conclude that everyone in the Papal entourage are grateful and appreciate that the Jordanian leg of this voyage went well and was the best possible way to begin the trip”.
Father Lombardi also revealed that at the end of mass this morning Pope Benedict met with a group of Iraqi Christians.
Indeed a sentence pronounced by Benedict XVI during mass has been the source of contrasting opinions. When, speaking about Christina solidarity towards others, he said: “It also means bearing witness to the love which inspires us to “lay down” our lives in the service of others, and thus to counter ways of thinking which justify “taking” innocent lives”. Some interpreted this as a reference to Hamas, three days ahead of his visit to the Palestinian Territories. “I would point out – responded Fr. Lombardi – that this speech was made here in Jordan; he was also speaking about the Year of the Family, of women, of Jordanian society, but of course he was also speaking about the commitment to dialogue for peace and to overcome situations of violence: when the church speaks about life its means from its beginning to its end, in all of its dimensions, what you are referring to - he concluded turning to a journalist – is highly specific, instead this discourse is far reaching”. (FP)