Starting Mideast tour, pope expresses respect for Islam
AMMAN, Jordan - Pope Benedict XVI began his first trip to the Middle East yesterday, expressing his "deep respect" for Islam and hopes that the Catholic Church will be a force for peace in the region as he tread carefully following 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 played bagpipes and waved Jordanian and Vatican flags.
The trip to the Middle East is the first for the German-born Benedict, who will travel on 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.
Benedict angered many in the Muslim world three years ago when he quoted a Medieval text that characterized some of Islam's Prophet Mohammed's teachings as "evil and inhuman," particularly "his command to spread by the sword the faith.
Earlier this year, he sparked outrage among Jews when he revoked the excommunication of an ultraconservative bishop who denies the Holocaust.