Pope Benedict XVI began his first trip to the Middle East on Friday, expressing his deep respect for Islam and hopes that the Catholic Church would be a force for peace in the region.
The pope was given a red-carpet welcome at the airport by Jordan's King Abdullah II and Queen Rania and praised the moderate Arab country as a leader in efforts to promote peace and dialogue between Christians and Muslims.
„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“, Benedict said shortly after landing in Jordan.
He said Jordan was in the forefront of efforts to promote peace, inter-religious dialogue and to curb extremism. Later at a Catholic center for the handicapped, he said his only agenda was to bring hope and prayers „for the precious gift of unity and peace, most specifically for the Middle East.“
Jordan's king praised the pope and said the world must reject „ambitious ideologies of division“. „We welcome your commitment to dispel the misconceptions and divisions that have harmed relations between Christians and Muslims“, said Abdullah.
Christians make up 3 percent of Jordan's 5.8 million people. Benedict's three-day stay in Jordan is his first visit to an Arab country as pope.