It’s amazing to think that in a country with only 109,000 Catholics, nearly a third of them piled into Amman’s International Stadium on Sunday for an open-air papal Mass. After departing the media center at 6:00 am, I expected the horde of media (yours truly among them) would be among the first to arrive, but a few hundred hearty souls were already in the stands when we pulled shortly after 6:30.
I spent a few hours talking to media from around the world, my colleagues from America, and a few Jordanians. Organizers had tapped the Jordanian Scouts and Girl Guides to help with logistics and crowd control. At least 100 teens dressed in their blue uniforms answered pilgrims’ questions and helped form a human barrier between the congregation and the yellow and white sanctuary on the east side of the stadium. The youth presence at the Mass was impressive. Hundreds of young people cheered and sang long before the Holy Father’s arrival. A song written especially for the papal visit — “Benvenuto Benedetto” (Welcome, Benedict in Italian) — rang through the crowd dozens of times throughout the morning.
True to form, the Holy Father arrived in the Popemobile punctually around 9:30, circling the stadium to the roar of about 30,000 enthusiastic souls. The yellow and white themed sanctuary was decorated with a large image of Christ, the Good Shepherd, because the Eastern Church was celebrating the fourth Week of Easter and Good Shepherd Sunday. They marked Easter one week later than in the West. An image of Mary and John the Baptist, patron of Jordan, also adorned the sanctuary.
Jordanian-born Archbishop Fouad Twal, patriarch of Jerusalem, warmly welcomed the Pope in English. He joked that the Church in Jordan is having a “vocations crisis” because its seminary is bursting at the seams and is struggling to find housing for the men eager to enter the priesthood.
In his homily, the Pope exhorted the Middle Eastern Christians to stay in the Holy Land and give testimony to Jesus in this region so plagued by conflict.
“Fidelity to your Christian roots, fidelity to the Church’s mission in the Holy Land, demands of each of you a particular kind of courage: the courage of conviction, born of personal faith, not mere social convention or family tradition; the courage to engage in dialogue and to work side by side with other Christians in the service of the Gospel and solidarity with the poor, the displaced, and the victims of profound human tragedies,” he said.
The Mass concluded with 40 Iraqi Chaldean children receiving their first Holy Communion. Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, patriarch of Baghdad, was among the dozens of priests and bishops concelebrating with the Holy Father.
After Mass, I talked to an American journalist who writes for the Jordan Times. The reporter was impressed with the high energy of the Mass — a rarity in this predominantly Muslim country. It was truly a celebration of Jordanian Catholicism, leaving enduring memories for thousands of the country’s faithful.