After months of planning and anticipation, I’m sitting on Royal Jordanian Flight 264, a direct flight from Chicago to Amman, Jordan.
This will be a short post because I’m tapping this out on my iPhone. In 12 hours, we will land 6,228 miles from home! What an adventure.
The Pope will be in the air to Jordan before we land … and he will land before we do. Time to fly!
After a pleasant flight of limited sleep while cruising at 41,000 feet, I noticed the monitor said it was -83C outside. I pulled the blanket up over my head and was thankful for the airplane’s heating system. Before long it was morning… if you can call it that. We left Chicago at 9 pm, which was the middle of the night in Jordan. So morning was morning… but not really. The airplane breakfast cart came by with something that resembled (but didn’t taste like) breakfast at about 2 pm Jordan time, which stuck me as odd. However, the thought passed quickly.
By 4:30 pm, we were safely on the ground, briskly passing through security thanks to our hosts, the good folks at the JTB (Jordanian Tourism Bureau). I’m keeping company with four other U.S. journalists as part of this press tour. We joined a larger entourage of media from around the world at the Jordanian Cultural Center in downtown Amman at around 6:30 pm. After a press briefing in Arabic (I understood the Arabic words for “Pope” and “Roman Catholic”). Other than that, nada.
However, our group snagged a 10-minute audience with the spokesman for the Catholic Church in Jordan, Fr. Rifat Bader. He repeated the reason for the Holy Father’s pastoral visit: peace. “The Pope is coming to encourage pacemakers, peace-dreamers and all citizens of the Middle East,” he said.
Father Bader mentioned that the Holy Father broke protocol this afternoon in front of the Regina Pacis (Queen of Peace) Center this afternoon. He made a slight detour from the schedule to greet the young people who had been waiting for hours for the Pope’s arrival. “These are the future of the Church,” Fr. Bader said of the young people.
We then met with Islamic scholar Dr. Sheik Hamdi Murad who gave us a Muslim perspective on the papal visit. He was excited that the Holy Father was in town. He said the meeting between Jordan’s King Abdullah II and the Pope Benedict this morning “wasn’t a national event, but an important international event between Christians and Muslims.” He saw it as a historical meeting between two men of faith. The Sheik said that the tensions between the Pope and Muslims created by the Pope’s address in Regensburg, Germany, almost three years ago is in the past. “The page has turned,” he explained.
Jordan has about 200,000 Christians (4% of the population), half of whom are Catholic. Pope Benedict is the third pope to visit Jordan. Pope Paul was the first, visiting in 1964. John Paul II made his historic visit in 2000. I expect to see the fruit of these visits in the days and years to come.