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Pope Visits Historic Christian Sites in Jordan

Pope Benedict XVI celebrated mass in Amman, visited the site where Jesus was baptized and blessed the cornerstones of two Catholic Churches on his last day in Jordan. He travels to Israel and the Palestinian territories next, where he has a busy five days ahead of him.

On his final day in Jordan, Pope Benedict stopped to pray at a pool of still green water, believed to be the spot where Jesus was baptized on the east bank of the River Jordan. The pope, who is on a weeklong visit of the Holy Land, is visiting sites of biblical significance.

Pope Benedict said the memory of Christ's baptism is brought vividly in this place. He said Jesus stood in line with sinners and accepted John's baptism of penance as a prophetic sign of his own passion, death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins.

He also said that down the centuries many pilgrims have come to Jordan to see purification and renew their faith. Then he made another call for Christians to promote dialogue and understanding.

"In the Middle East, marked by tragic suffering, by years of violence and unresolved tensions, Christians are called to offer their contribution, inspired by the example of Jesus, of reconciliation and peace through forgiveness and generosity," said Pope Pope Benedict XVI.

The pope also blessed the foundation stones of two Catholic Churches, of Latin and Greek Melkite rite, that are being built beside the River Jordan. There are hopes in Jordan that the pope's visit will help increase religious tourism to its biblical sites.

Earlier, the pope celebrated mass for a crowd of 20,000 people at a soccer stadium in Amman. He urged Middle East Christians to persevere in their faith despite the difficulties they face.

Since his arrival in Jordan on Friday, Pope Benedict has focused on the need to build bridges with the other faiths. He has spoken of his deep respect for Islam. He stressed the importance of Muslim and Christian communities working together during his second ever visit to a mosque.

The pope also spoke of the inseparable bond between the Church and the Jewish people when he visited Mount Nebo, where Moses first got a glimpse of the Promised Land.

But the more delicate phase of his first Middle Eastern tour starts Monday when he travels to Israel and then the Palestinian territories. Israel and the Vatican have clashed in recent months over the pope's decision to lift the excommunication of a Holocaust denying bishop and over moves to beatify Pope Pius XII.