Sunday, May 25, 2014

Recap of the Pope's Visit to Jordan

It was an incredible day. After weeks of preparations and the excitement leading up to the Papal visit, Pope Francis did not disappoint.

The organization surrounding the event was quite solid. After sending parishioners to the stadium because the assigned buses never showed up, the Jesuits priests and scholastics headed to the Vicariate’s offices to be transported by comfort buses. We greeted the many Cardinals, Archbishops, Patriarchs, and other dignitaries who were on their way to the Royal Palace for a meeting with King Abdullah, the Royal family, and Pope Francis. Cardinals O’Brien and McCarrick were especially pleasant men with whom to speak. The local clergy was out in full force.

Jesuits, their benefactors, and friends of the Society came for a special Holy Land pilgrimage on this historic occasion.

Travel to the stadium was quick and easy and we could tell we were approaching the stadium because of the high volume of police and military officials to guide our safety. Also, noise levels began to rise as the Christian faithful streamed to Amman’s International Stadium where around 40,000 people were expected to worship at Mass.

Sports City was cleaned up nicely with flags and banners welcoming the Pope. Vatican and Jordanian flags were waved by zealous supporters. Organization around entry was smooth and orderly and there was hardly a wait at all to enter the stadium.

It was fun. It felt like a major sporting event as people were happy as they ran up to greet one another. Balloons, including pink and blue rosary bead ensembles, dotted the stadium’s playing field. Smiles were everywhere. The months of waiting was over and the day was one for celebration. Photographs were taken of every scene that occurred. I must have posed for 500 photos myself.

Once we priests received our stoles and chasubles, we mingled with parishioners and other faithful Catholics. It was a grand celebration as we shared our astonishment of how close we would be able to get to the Pope. We also shared our lack of surprise that there were insufficient numbers of portable toilets.

Local church choirs sang popular Jordanian Catholic songs and Abouna Bashir Bader animated the congregations with inspirational words to greet the Bishop of Rome.

It felt like a grand carnival. Everywhere I walked, people wanted to pose with me with the backdrop of the sanctuary behind us. I saw our First Communion candidates. There were 1,400 children receiving their first communion at the mass.

The Jumbotron kept us apprised of the Papal Motorcade’s status. As he approached the stadium, a helicopter swarmed above us. We focused our eyes on the widescreen as he stepped out of the limousine and stepped into his popemobile.  Men in black protected the popemobile as it entered the stadium. The blue and pink Rosary balloons were released. Ten doves were set free as a symbol of peace for the region. All eyes were transfixed on this gentle man as he smiled and waved to his fellow Catholics. He enjoyed himself.

The priests lined up to greet the Pope. We saw him turn from around the corner and the orderly jostling to be in the front row soon broke apart as priests rushed up to touch him, but the well-trained Italian security guards kept us at bay. We then assembled onto the sanctuary platform and waited for the papal procession.

Mass was said in Italian and Arabic. The translated homily was read by Bishop Maroun Lahham. The homily focused upon the ways we have to work for peace as a symbol of the Holy Spirit’s presence among us. Practicing peace is difficult work. The pope was graceful and gentle.

I was seated to the left hand of the Pope where I expected the canopy to shield me from the baking sun. It didn’t, but we were given sombrero hats to protect us. I sat very near to the Jesuit Federico Lombardi on the side where Cardinal Piolin sat.

When it was time to distribute communion, we were led by umbrella-carrying volunteers who would bring us to the faithful. As I finished distributing communion, I moved to another area where I fed four hundred children their first communion. It was quite a special time.

As the mass was ending, Patriarch Fuad Twal thanked Pope Francis for his generosity in coming to the Holy Lands and for encouraging the Christian faithful. After the two greeted, the recessional began and a swarm of Jordanian priests broke out of their seats to receive blessings from the man.

After the mass, people left quickly, but those who were in the stands came down into the fields. They were fortunate enough to touch and be blessed by Pope Francis as he exited the stadium on his popemobile.

We then returned to the Jesuit Center where we had a party for friends and benefactors. I could hardly fall asleep though I was fatigued. What a great day.

To see photos of Pope Francis’ visit to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, click on the link below:


  1. Thanks for sharing this story first hand dear John. Let's continue to journey prayerfully and hopefully with our brother Francis as he continues to pilgrimage his way through the Holy Lands.

    1. Every person I know who has met the Pope says he asks them to pray for him.