Pope Calls for Solutions to Conflicts in Mideast Visit

Photo ~ Pope Francis waved to the crowd on Saturday following a mass in Amman. Credit Patrick Baz/Agence France-Presse — Getty Image

ON THE EAST BANK OF THE JORDAN RIVER — After visiting a site on Saturday where Jesus is believed to have been baptized, Pope Francis spoke about Jesus’s humility, “the fact that he bends down to wounded humanity in order to heal us.”

On Sunday morning, Francis is to become the first pope to travel directly into the Israeli-occupied West Bank, underscoring the Vatican’s support for the 2012 United Nations resolution making Palestine a nonmember observer state. Palestinians have trumpeted the visit to the “State of Palestine,” as the Vatican website also describes it, and will use the pope’s time in Bethlehem to highlight hardships under Israeli occupation.

He will also be the first pontiff to lay a wreath on the grave of Theodor Herzl, the father of modern Zionism, a boon to Israelis more than a century after Pope Pius X harshly rejected Herzl’s appeal for support. And he is scheduled to say Mass on Mount Zion, claimed as both the tomb of King David and as the site of the Last Supper, a plan that has ignited anti-Christian graffiti and protests from religious Jews.

Here in Jordan, where 10,000 officers were deployed to safeguard the streets for the visit, Saturday’s schedule was less packed — as was the 30,000-person-capacity stadium, where half the seats stayed empty through a sedate service.