Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Jordan Friday at the start of a Middle Eastern tour that will also take him to Israel and the Palestinian territories. He immediately expressed respect for Islam and praised Jordan for its efforts at promoting peace in the Middle East and dialogue between Christians and Muslims.
At the airport to welcome the pope were King Abdullah and Queen Rania. Dignitaries and prominent Muslim and Christian leaders were also present. Benedict delivered a speech in which he said his visit to Jordan gave him a welcome opportunity to speak of his deep respect for the Muslim community.
"The Kingdom of Jordan has long been at the forefront of initiatives to promote peace in the Middle East and throughout the world, encouraging inter-religious dialogue, supporting efforts to find a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, welcoming refugees from neighboring Iraq, and seeking to curb extremism," he said.
The pope upset many in the Muslim world during a 2006 speech in which he quoted a Medieval text that characterized some of the Prophet Muhammad's teachings as "evil and inhuman," particularly "his command to spread by the sword the faith." The pope said he was "deeply sorry" over the reaction to his speech and that the passage he quoted did not reflect his own opinion.
King Abdullah of Jordan, in his welcome address to the pope, said the world must reject ambitious ideologies of division.
"Together we must renew our commitment to mutual respect. Here and now we must create a new and global dialogue of understanding and good will," he said.
The pope then visited the Regina Pacis Center, a special needs facility that inspired Christian-Muslim dialogue and cooperation.
The pope's final engagement on his first day in Amman was a courtesy visit to the King and Queen at the royal palace. On Saturday he has a busy day, which will include a visit to Mount Nebo, where according to biblical tradition God showed Moses the Promised Land.
He will also be visiting Jordan's largest mosque. It will be the second time Benedict visits a Muslim place of prayer.
Father Rifat Bader is the spokesman of the Catholic Church in Amman.
"We are looking for this visit to the mosque to open hopes and doors for the dialogue, to renew the enthusiasm in all the hearts, to continue the path of dialogue because it will show how religion is very important to build peace and justice in the whole Middle East and in the whole world," he said.
Benedict will also be celebrating mass in Jordan on Sunday before traveling on to Israel.