JORDAN AWAITS JOHN PAUL II

Unexpected Anticipation in Country of Muslim Majority

AMMAN, (ZENIT.org).- The Holy Father will arrive in Jordan today, the first stage of his longed for trip to the Holy Land, which will end on Sunday, March 26. Everyone is enthusiastically awaiting the Pope in this country. Already yesterday, welcome banners were on display in the streets. Some said: "Welcome John Paul II, Man of Tolerance," "King Abdala Loves Jordan and the Pope."

The most important moments of the visit to the Hashemite kingdom will be the pilgrimage to Mount Nebo, from which Moses glimpsed the Promised Land before his death, and a visit to Wadi Al-Kaharrar where, according to some archeological evidence, Jesus was baptized. The most intense moments for the people will be the Mass the Pope will celebrate in the Amman Stadium, where he will baptize 2,000 children, and his meeting with young King Abdala II.
 Jordan is a predominantly Muslim country. Out of a total of 6,300 million inhabitants, there re only 71,000 Catholics -- 1.13%. However, interest in the Pope's visit is very great. 77,000 tickets were printed for the Mass on Tuesday, and all have been distributed. For days the local newspapers have been referring to this "historic" trip. Akel Buttaji, Minister of Tourism, said on Vatican Radio yesterday that the Pope will pass into the country's and the region's history because of his
contribution to peace. An intense publicity campaign has been carried out in the 64 Catholic parishes in Jordan to made people aware of the visit, distributing shirts, visors and information pamphlets. 
Along with peace, prosperity should come to this region. Last year, Jordan's GNP increased by 5%. But unemployment continues to be a difficult problem. Some 30% of the active population is unemployed. The country's real resource is its youth. Half the population is under 15. 
Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto, the Apostolic Nuncio in Jordan, emphasized to Vatican Radio the importance that the Jordanian monarchy attaches to the dialogue among religions. In this connection, King Hussein, deceased father of King Abdala, founded the Inter-Faith Institute, a center dedicated to dialogue among believers. "Undoubtedly, the Pope's visit, just because of the gesture its represents, independently of what the Pope says, will serve to gives impetus to everyone's understanding of the importance of highlighting common ideas and values. We all hope the Holy Father's visit will give new impulse to understanding the importance of working together to find understanding, communion, and dialogue," the Nuncio said.