Jordan Pope Benedict XVI began his first trip to the Middle East on Friday, expressing his “deep respect” for Islam and hopes that the Catholic Church would be a force for peace in the region, treading carefully after past missteps with Muslims and Jews.
The pope was given a red-carpet welcome at the airport by Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Queen Rania and praised the moderate Arab country as a leader in efforts to promote peace and dialogue between Christians and Muslims. An honor guard wearing traditional headscarfs played bagpipes and waved Jordanian and Vatican flags.
The trip to the Holy Land is the first for the German-born Benedict, who will travel Monday for a much-anticipated four days in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Despite the lavish welcome ceremony, the pope has faced sharp criticism in the Middle East — by both Muslims and Jews.