The great enthusiasm through which Jordanian Muslims are expressing their welcome to Pope Francis is indicative of a basic fact that he is different. Different from the other four Popes who had visited Amman since 1964, and all had European ancestry. This pontiff had a third world background like many Jordanians, as he had worked as a chemist technician in a pharmaceutical company before joining the seminary. He shares with many Jordanians the trauma of the poor working class communities since he worked as a floor janitor in a multi-storey office complex.
When he was doing his first pilgrimage to the church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, the October War of 1973 erupted, which induced him to open his eyes to the horrors of Israeli occupation and usurpation of Christian and Moslem rights.
Pope Francis was the first Catholic high ranking religious figure to distance himself publicly from statements issued by Pope Benedict XVII in his 2006 Regensburg lecture, which were considered by the media as denigrating Islam.
For those reasons, Dr Sameer Naffori, Director of the Islamic Centre in Argentina wrote that it is source of joy for Muslems in Buenos Aires to have Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio elected to the Holy See as he understands our worries as Muslems, as he had shared with us so many experiences as a Jesuit priest, living with us, as he saw through the perspective of mercy the correct path to follow and to lead: the poor and the rich, the underprivileged and the downtrodden.
The pope wrote extensively about the process of seeing others in the light of mercy and choosing for them after words the way. It is this line of vision that we wish the pontiff, being the bridge builder, the Argentine with a look of mercy, will manage to visit the Syrian refugees, and contribute to make them feel less agonizing nights. It is the same wish to have him visit one of the 13 Palestinian refugee camps here, and see a graphic vivid manifestation of what Israeli occupation forces committed, illustrating the biblical motto regarding man’s heinous oppression of man.
As a Jesuit, and as an Argentine, the pontiff comes to Jordan with a slate very clean from any trace of European stereotyping of Islam, since the papacy was for the last twelve centuries monopolized by Europeans, with an imbibed preconceptions about Arabs and Muslims.
Such a cultural background made him announce his heroic stand on 12th September 2006 against Pope Benedict XVII, saying that it takes us twenty years to build relations with the Muslim World, and suddenly some statements destroy in twenty minutes what we had been building.
Just as one Jordanian expressed it succinctly, Pope Francis shares with us the same background, a similar past and a deeply hidden hatred for political oppression. The Pope earned by his courage a genuine welcome from Muslims.