Source: The New York Times
Arriving in Jordan on his first trip to the Holy Land as pope, Benedict XVI on Friday expressed his “deep respect” for Muslims and his desire for the Roman Catholic Church to play a major role in fostering peace in the Middle East.
Benedict was greeted at the airport by Jordan’s king, Abdullah II, on the first leg of an eight-day trip to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories on which the pontiff’s every word and gesture will be scrutinized.
In 2006, Benedict offended many Muslims with a speech in Regensburg, Germany, in which he quoted a Byzantine emperor who said that Islam encouraged violence and brought things “evil and inhuman.”
On Friday, Benedict praised Jordan for its commitment to religious liberty and singled out the efforts of the Common Word initiative, a group of Muslim scholars and clerics formed with Jordanian support in response to the Regensburg speech.
Addressing reporters on the papal plane en route to Jordan, Benedict played down the intense political ramifications of his trip. He said the Catholic Church could help foster reconciliation in the Middle East because “we are not a political power, but a spiritual force.”
“Friends, unlike the pilgrims of old, I do not come bearing gifts or offerings,” Benedict said Friday at a Catholic charity in Amman. “I come simply with an intention, a hope: to pray for the precious gift of unity and peace, most specifically for the Middle East.”