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Pope, Arriving in Holy Land, Calls for Religious Freedom in Middle East

Pope Francis speaks aboard the papal plane on his way to Amman, Jordan, 24 May, the start of his three-day visit to the Holy Land. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring) 

He also promised he would conduct an on-board news conference during his return flight to Rome on 26 May, even though “one of you said that it would not be possible because there will be a devastating trip.”

The pope’s reference was to the Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, who was standing beside the pope as he spoke, and who had earlier told reporters that such an appearance by the pope would be “almost miraculous.”

On the return flight from his only other international trip, to Rio de Janeiro in July 2013, Pope Francis answered questions from journalists for nearly an hour and a half, making headlines with comments on controversial topics including homosexuality in the priesthood and corruption in the Vatican.

On the streets of Amman, a Muslim taxi cab driver named Hassan told Catholic News Service, “Both Christians and Muslims in Jordan are welcoming the pope.”

“We consider him a man of peace. Look, he even wears a white robe, and for us that symbolizes someone who carries the message of peace for all people,” he said.

“He’s considered as a person higher than a president of a country, and we honor him,” he added.

The driver, however, lamented that he might lose business because many of Amman’s roads and the main highway to Bethany Beyond the Jordan were locked down as a security measure to safeguard the pope and his entourage.

“Maybe, I’ll just make $10 at the most today. But perhaps I can catch some of those heading to the sport stadium for the papal Mass, even the Baptism Site,” he said, with a chuckle.

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Contributing to this story was Dale Gavlak.

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Tags: Pope Francis Jordan Holy Land Holy Land Christians religious freedom