Moses wandered in the desert for 40 years before he saw the Promised Land. It took me almost 41. But my wanderings haven’t all been in the desert. Earlier today, about 150 people — media, guests, and clergy — gathered atop Jordan’s Mt. Nebo where Moses gazed out upon the Dead See and the land God had promised. As we waited for Pope Benedict to arrive, I looked out upon the land below and imagined what Moses felt after completing his earthly journey knowing that God had been faithful to his promise.
The media and honored guests waited in the ruins of a 6th-century church honoring Moses. It had replaced a 4th century church. When John Paul II visited Mt. Nebo in 2000, the church had a temporary roof and was functioning. Today, the roof and most of the support structure had been removed for a substantial restoration effort. The media perched upon dusty ancient walls and scrambled for the best vantage point to view the Holy Father give his speech.
When Pope Benedict arrived, shortly after 9 am, he was greeted with sustained applause. The brief service included a reading from Deuteronomy, recalling how Moses had seen the promised land, died, and was buried on the very mountain were on — 700 meters above the plain below.
The Holy Father said, “It is appropriate that my pilgrimage should begin on this mountain.” This holy place, he said, should remind all Christians to “undertake a daily exodus from sin and slavery to life and freedom.
“The magnificent prospect which opens up from the esplanade of this shrine invites us to ponder how that prophetic vision mysteriously embraced the great plan of salvation which God prepared for his people,” he said.
“Like Moses, we too have been called by name, invited to undertake a daily exodus from sin and slavery towards life and freedom, and given an unshakeable promise to guide our journey. In the waters of Baptism, we have passed from the slavery of sin to new life and hope.”
The Holy Father then walked 100 yards to a viewing platform and spent five minutes taking in view of the land bordering Israel, under the towering Brazen Serpent sculpture by Italian artist Giovanni Fantoni, before departing in the Popemobile.
After the Pope departed, I took my turn at the platform. I’ll post a photo when I have a few more minutes. Needless to say, the view is spectacular. Despite the years that have passed since Moses stood here, only one winding road has marred the landscape. Otherwise, it must have looked much as it does today. I’m confident that Moses left this spot confident that God had indeed been faithful and kept his promise. I couldn’t help but do the same.
On Saturday afternoon, about 60 journalists boarded buses to St. George Melkite Cathedral in Amman. After waiting for about 90 minutes, the Holy Father arrived around 5:30 pm for a vespers service. From my perch in the choir loft, we had a phenomenal view of the fervent crowd of about 400 Greek Catholics gathered for the event. They greeted the Pope with incredible enthusiasm, testing the security details ability to keep him from being mobbed.
The hour-long service included heavenly music from several choirs who chanted and sang in Latin, Greek, and Arabic. The dignitaries included members of the Roman Curia — Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Cardinal John Foley — and Orthodox Archbishop Benediktos Tsikoras as well leaders of a string of Eastern churches in union with Rome.
The Holy Father expressed his sincere thanks for the “opportunity to pray with you and to experience something of the richness of our liturgical traditions.”
“The Church herself is a pilgrim people and thus, through the centuries, has been marked by determinant historical events and pervading cultural epochs,” the Pope remarked. “Sadly, some of these have included times of theological dispute or periods of repression.”
“Others, however, have been moments of reconciliation — marvelously strengthening the communion of the Church — and times of rich cultural revival, to which Eastern Christians have contributed so greatly,” he continued.
“Particular Churches,” the Pope explained, “within the universal Church attest to the dynamism of her earthly journey and manifest to all members of the faithful a treasure of spiritual, liturgical, and ecclesiastical traditions which point to God’s universal goodness and his will, seen throughout history, to draw all into his divine life.”
As he left the cathedral, the devoted pilgrims again tested security in what, at times, seemed like a bit of a shoving match. However, the Pope seemed unfazed by the adulation as he beamed with joy and stretched to touch as many as he could. His Sunday Mass at Amman’s largest stadium will give even more of the faithful the opportunity to see the Pilgrim Pope.