Pope Francis visit to Jordan and beyond has already been hauled as historic. I was part of the Indian media team that was invited by the Jordan Tourism Board to cover the event.
When the ‘popemobile’ entered the Amman Stadium, the crowds erupted in a deafening cheer. The charismatic Pope Francis waved to the crowds. At some places the mobile stopped and the pope shook hands with some blessed souls. The music from the choir and the spontaneous cheer in the stadium blended harmoniously.
Pope Francis has been on a three day visit of bringing hope and peace to the Middle East. He visited Jordan, Palestine Authority and Israel. Apart from conducting holy mass and performing other religious ceremonies at important religious sites across these three nations, he invited both the Israel and Palestine leaders to visit Vatican. At this moment it seems both the sides have accepted the invitation. While addressing the gathering in the Amman Stadium he urged for an end to the civil war in Syria. The Pope hailed the efforts of Jordan for offering shelter to Syrian refugees.
Jordan has been an oasis of calm in an otherwise troubled region. Its neighbors Iraq, Syria, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt all has gone through turbulent times. Jordan has taken refugees in large numbers both from Palestine and now Syria. With a 92% Muslim population and Islam as state religion, its constitution still provides freedom to practice other religions. My guide to the events Salahuddin Abu Naffa mentioned that Jordan has tried to be the Switzerland of Middle East in the recent times.
Away from the pope’s mass, at the Dead Sea, after having my fill of floating, ‘reading a newspaper’ and exhausting my skin with mud packs, I noticed an Arabic woman in her headgear swimming strongly beyond the safe barrier erected by the hotel. When she came back I asked her how was the sea out there? She replied that it was clam but she could swim well. The customary ‘where are you from’ followed and I asked her the same as well. But her reply was not what I expected. She said, “I am a doctor from Palestine. I now live in Jordan. I cannot go back to Palestine; there is no hope of it. All my neighbors are Arab, we speak the same language. Was there no other land in the world for Israel?” I am of course a novice at understanding the nuances of Middle East politics which baffles even the pundits. But I was completely taken aback by her anger, it was almost a physical thing, I thought I could almost touch it.
With so much anger buried deep inside common wo/men (on both sides I am sure) I wonder how long the road to peace is going to be? But peace there must be, as Pope Francis emphasized throughout his historic visit to the Middle East for the alternative is cruel to all.
On the personal front, when the ‘popemobile’ started whizzing past me, I knew I had only this one chance to take a picture of the Pope at such a close range. I was perched precariously on a chair to gain height, so were many other photographers. In the past, I have captured a tigress that was even closer but my hands were ever steady. They shook so badly on this occasion that I when I saw some ‘in focus’ pictures of the pope in my camera, I raised my free hand and yelled with glee.