Last updated: 24 May, 2014

Flags and flowers as Jordan Christians await pope

Cheering Christians piled onto buses from churches across Jordan on Saturday, heading for an Amman stadium where Pope Francis will celebrate the first mass of a Middle East tour.

Vatican and Jordanian flags flew from masts along the roads to the airport, where the pope was to land at 1000 GMT and be welcomed by 200 children.

One of them was to present him with a black iris flower — the symbol of Jordan.

He will then be whisked away in a red open-topped motorcade to meet King Abdullah II, before celebrating mass in the stadium and meeting Syrian refugees on the banks of the River Jordan, where Christians believe Jesus was baptised.

“We are thrilled the pope is coming. He will bring love and peace for the Arab world,” said Sister Rachel, 77, dressed in her best habit.

“We are already singing for him to become a saint,” she told AFP, adding that seven buses would be leaving from churches in the hill town of Mataba alone.

In the stadium, which can fit up to 30,000 people, thousands of blue and red chairs were laid out in front of a large altar, behind which hung photographs of John Paul II and John XXIII, who were made saints by Francis this month.

Christian refugees from Syria, Palestine and Iraq will attend the mass, during which some 1,400 children will receive their first communion.

“This is huge, I’m so excited Pope Francis is coming. We’re really going to make him feel welcome,” said Veronica Moutaame, as groups began gathering under a huge banner of a smiling Francis with King Abdullah II outside the stadium.

“This is a historical visit, we’re really proud to have him here,” said Michel Haddad, who was being joined later by his wife and two young children.

Sister Rachel, who will have seen all four popes to have visited Jordan — Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and now Francis — said the Argentinian’s presence was especially important because of his dedication to the downtrodden.

“This pope is special. He only wants to see the poor and the diseased. He is the protector of the helpless,” she said.