Mass with the pope in Jordan

A triumphal announcement in Arabic elicits an enormous cheer as the popemobile enters the stadium…

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By Julie Rattey

The pope hasn’t even arrived yet, and the people in the stadium are already cheering. Brightly colored flags are waving, held by children in First Communion attire, priests and Sisters, travelers from countries around the world. Voices of all ages are crying out with excitement and anticipation, singing in Italian and clapping rhythmically between the words: Benedetto! Benvenuto! In Giordania! (“Welcome to Jordan, Benedict!”)

It’s the morning of Sunday, May 10, in the capital city of Amman, Jordan, and the pope will soon arrive at the International Stadium to say Mass as part of an eight-day pilgrimage in the Holy Land. This is the pontiff’s first visit to an Arab country, and although Christians are a minority in Jordan — 6 percent compared with more than 90 percent Muslim — the pope has hardly been short on enthusiastic crowds. Judging from the excited atmosphere among the 30,000 people at the stadium — some of them Muslims attending with Christian friends — this was gearing up to be the biggest welcome so far.

“I’m really excited, because it’s my first time to see him,” says 13-year-old Sara Hattar, visiting with her local church in Amman.

“Seeing the pope means everything to me — peace, love, community, everything,” says Anton Al-Dalo, a smartly suited man from Amman attending with his 8-year-old son, Costi. “His visit will impact all Christians.”

Outdoor Mass with the pope is a unique and sometimes bewildering experience. It’s a riot of color and sound — Vatican and country flags waving, songs blaring, reporters and black-suited photographers roaming the grounds, small seas of children being kept entertained by chaperones leading songs. Voices converse, shout, sing in a multiplicity of languages, sometimes fighting to make themselves heard to friends and notebook-wielding reporters over the music and talk issuing from the stadium speakers. It’s Mass, yes. But with the bleachers, the noise, the suspense, and — when the pope will arrive — the pressing of bodies, the reaching of hands, the roaring cheers from the stands, it’s also one part baseball game, one part rock concert.

Each person — from the parish priest in Jordan to the refugee from Iraq — has his or her own reasons for braving the traffic, the heat, the hours of waiting, not to mention the challenge of not getting squashed by crowds trying to snag a free restroom stall. For many, seeing the pope roll into the stadium in his white popemobile for the 10 a.m. Mass will make it all worth it.

“Seeing him is going to push me more to have more courage, more faith, and more humility,” says Brother Nemtallah of Lebanon. Clad in a beige hooded robe that frames an arresting, hermetic-looking face and dark, silver-streaked beard, Brother Nemtallah explains that he and his fellow Brothers and Sisters came to the Mass not only to see the pope, but also to pray for families, for the dignity of all human life, and for peace.

Peace is writ large on Pope Benedict’s agenda for this trip. “I will be coming among you as a pilgrim of peace,” he said prior to leaving Rome. “My primary intention is to visit the places made holy by the life of Jesus and to pray at them for the gift of peace and unity for your families.”

That the pope’s visit will encourage peace in the Middle East and elsewhere is a hope shared by many in the region.

“We hope the visit of the pope will renew the hope for us as Christians, as believers, as citizens of the Middle East and citizens of the international community,” says Father Rifat Bader, official spokesman for the Catholic Church in Jordan. He points out that the Holy Father is coming “to encourage all the peacemakers and all the peace-thinkers and all the peace-dreamers. He’s coming to increase in us the hope for a better future.”

His Excellency Sheikh Dr. Hamdi Murad, former undersecretary for the Ministry of Islamic Affairs in Jordan, calls the visit “a golden bridge” between Christians and Muslims, and hopes it will be “a new step for peace in the Middle East.” In particular, he says, the pope’s visit to Jordan’s Al-Hussein Bin Talal Mosque will convey that Muslims and Christians are “hand to hand, heart to heart, spirit to spirit, to work together for unity, for peace, for tolerance, for everyone, every human being in this world.”

Some Massgoers, like one young woman, Narmin, have intensely personal reasons to hope that Pope Benedict’s visit will inspire peace in the Middle East. An end to conflict would mean that she and her family could return to Iraq, which they fled two years ago.

“We were afraid of everything,” Narmin says. Raising her voice to make herself heard over the chanting and music playing in the stadium, she explains how people in Iraq would often say unkind things to her family because of their Catholic religion, and tell her that her faith was “wrong.” Here in Jordan, she says, people don’t say that.

The trials of families like Narmin’s are familiar to Mon-signor Matti Matoka, the Syrian Catholic Archbishop of Baghdad, Iraq, who says he urges all Iraqis, and all Christians, to have patience and faith in God during these difficult times. “After the storm, there is always calm, there is always peace, serenity,” he says. “We must continue to have patience in the good God.”

Managing Editor Julie Rattey

Julie Rattey is a Boston-based writer and editor. She is the author of If I Grew Up in Nazareth, available from