POPE CELEBRATES FIRST MASS IN HOLY LAND

March 21st (EWTNews) The Pope began the second day on his historic pilgrimage to the Holy Land by celebrating Mass at the Amman Jordan stadium under a canopy in the Papal colors of yellow and white.

Amman is the capital of Jordan and is the largest Christian gathering in a mainly Muslim country. Christians make up 6 percent of Jordan's 4.8 million inhabitants and fewer than half of those are Catholic. Joining those gathered today for Mass are about 10,000 Christians exiled from Iraq, as well as, approximately 2,000 eight and nine-year-olds from all corners of Jordan who made their first communion at the hands of 15 bishops who celebrated the Mass with the Pope.

As the Supreme Pontiff entered the stadium in the popemobile, the crowd of 50,000 waved flags and cheered in both English and Arabic.

The ceremony began with songs being sung by a choir composed of both Christians and Muslims followed by a welcome by His Beatitude Michel Sabbah. Dressed in red vestments, celebrating the martyrdom of John the Baptist who is the Patron Saint of Jordan, the first words pronounced by His Holiness after the sign of the cross were "Peace be with you" in Arabic.

Throughout the Mass, many languages were used (Greek, Arabic, Latin, English) by the people participating which reflects the universality of the Church for all people. At the beginning of the celebration, water taken from the Jordan River was blessed for the sprinkling of the faithful by the Pope.

The Holy Father began his homily with the familiar passage, "A voice cries out in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord!" (Isaiah 40"3) reminding us of the "Godís desire to teach and save His people." Even today, the Pope himself a pilgrim tracing the steps of Jesus Christ, reminded those gathered that the whole Church and especially the Christian community in Jordan that "we all are united in a pilgrimage of conversion and penance, of reconciliation and peace." The Pope traced the steps of salvation "through a history stretching back to Abraham". Echoing the theme the Holy Father started on Monday, he used the story of Abraham and Sarah who had no children or land of their own, to emphasize "they put their faith in God, believing and hoping against hope." And "however impossible it seemed" their prayers were answered and "Isaac was born to Sarah and Abraham received land."

"The history of salvation is a Covenant of love between God and man Ė a Covenant which demands obedience but promises liberation. The Ten Commandments are the divine pedagogy of love, indicating the only sure path to the fulfillment of our deepest longing: the human spiritís irrepressible search for goodness, truth and harmony." Then the Holy Father emphasized that the Covenant and Law received by Moses from God would live on forever.

Addressing the Bishops and priests, the Holy Father encouraged them to "put your trust in the Lord and grow closer to Him in prayer." To the Religious women and men, he challenged them "to not be afraid to take your proper place and responsibility in the Church and be brave witnesses to the Gospel!"

To the Motherís on this Motherís Day in Jordan he invited them "to be builders of a new civilization of love" and to teach their families "the ways of harmony and peace." To the young people, he asked them "to help transform the world around you, by giving the best of yourselves in the service of others" and lastly, to the 2000 children making their First Holy Communion, he shared with them that "Jesus is your best friend, stay close to Him."

After his homily, the crowd broke into cheers of "John Paul II, we love you!"

At the end of the Mass the Pope blessed three cornerstones which will be used in the construction of a Maronite Church, a Syrian Catholic Church and the "Regina Pacis" Center.

The Holy Father began his weeklong journey in the footsteps of Moses and Jesus in Jordan on Monday. After todayís Mass, he will take a helicopter ride to Wadi al-Kharrar on the east bank of the Jordan River, the site where Christ was baptized by John the Baptist, according to Jordan. Then in the late afternoon he will journey to Israel on the second leg of the pilgrimage. Pope John Paul II will be the second Pope in history to go to Jerusalem.