Pope Francis is greeted by pilgrims after arriving to celebrate Mass at Amman International Stadium in Jordan May 24. Celebrating Mass on his first day in the Holy Land, Pope Francis said hope for peace in a region torn by sectarian conflicts comes from faith in God. CNS photo/Amel Pain, EPA

Pope Francis pleads for peace and justice in Jordan address

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  • May 23, 2014

Pope Francis was barely off the plane in Amman, Jordan when he began to take on the hardest and most delicate issues in the Middle East – including refugees.

In his opening remarks to the Hashemite royal family, Jordanian dignitaries and local Christian leaders he called for religious freedom in majority Muslim countries and "a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

Later at Mass, the pope's typical three-point homily on the role of the Holy Spirit hammered home the theme of peace.

"The mission of the Holy Spirit, in fact, is to beget harmony – he is himself harmony – and to create peace in different situations and between different people," said Pope Francis. "Diversity of ideas and persons should not trigger rejection or prove an obstacle, for variety always enriches. So today, with fervent hearts, we invoke the Holy Spirit and ask him to prepare the path to peace and unity."

But at both venues the pope's most heartfelt and emotional words were for refugees. The pope's homily took special note of Syrian refugees now living in immense camps inside Jordan. Francis also linked this new wave of refugees with longstanding refugee crises throughout the region – including in Palestine.

"I also embrace with affection the many Christian refugees from Palestine, Syria and Iraq: please bring my greeting to your families and communities, and assure them of my closeness," he said.

Earlier in the day Pope Francis made the same link between Palestinian, Iraqi and Syrian refugees when he thanked Jordanian King Abdulla II for welcoming hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria's civil war.

"Jordan has offered a generous welcome to great numbers of Palestinian and Iraqi refugees, as well as to other refugees from troubled areas, particularly neighbouring Syria, ravaged by a conflict which has lasted all too long," Francis said.

In his opening remarks, King Abdullah was no less forthright in confronting the difficulties of peace, the cost of refugees and the diminishing presence of Christians in the Arab world.

"Let me say forthrightly that Arab Christian communities are an integral part of the Middle East," said the British and American-educated king and 41st descendent of the Prophet Mohammed.

The pope thanked Abdullah specifically for his work toward a solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and his work on interfaith dialogue including the Amman Statement of basic principles of Islam and support for the United Nations-sponsored World Interfaith Harmony Week.

Close observers of Francis have been expecting Pope Francis to take on the problems of Palestine and Israel and to highlight the diminishing presence of Christians in the region. Putting the Palestinian situation in the context of more recent refugee crises in the region was not necessarily expected.

There are 2.7 million Syrian refugees who have managed to cross a border. They form one part of 15 million refugees the United Nations High Commission for Refugees is monitoring world-wide.

But that's not all. Just as there are nine million internally displaced people in Syria, homeless but not yet legally refugees, there are 33.5 million internally displaced people in the world living in camps, refugees in all but name.
Add them all together and there are 48 million people made homeless and stateless by wars and other conflicts, many of them dragging on for years and years. The population of this nation of refugees has 13 million more people than the population of Canada.

Pope Francis doesn't want the world's refugees to be forgotten and he's using his presence in a region where refugees abound to remind the world of its moral obligations.

This was once an area where Canada could stand proud. But Canada's current commitment is to take in 14,500 refugees this year through a tortuous process that leaves refugees lingering for years waiting for approval to finally move to this country after first being offered refuge.

Canada promised to take in 1,300 Syrian refugees by the end of this year. Catholic parishes have enthusiastically signed up to offer them a helping hand into a new life. Almost every one of those parishes is asking, where are they?
If Pope Francis were visiting Canada would he be thanking our leaders for doing all that they can, as he thanked King Abdullah for welcoming 144,000 Syrian refugees in the Zaatari Refugee Camp alone? Or would he see that target of 14,500 extended by a rich country, one built by refugees, and shake his head?

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