Jordan    POPE PLEAS FOR MIDDLE EAST UNITY
After arriving in Jordan, Pope John Paul II has appealed for unity, solidarity and justice in the region.
   Some 50,000 followers packed into a sports stadium in the capital Amman to celebrate mass with the pontiff - the largest Christian gathering in a mainly Muslim country.
   The 79-year-old Pope, speaking slowly and sometimes slurring his words, called for the bond between Christians and "the other great religions which flourish here" to be strengthened.
   "May the resources of the church ... set unity and love as their supreme goal." A key theme of the trip is how to improve relations among Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which all converge in Jerusalem's Old City.
   The pontiff arrived in his bullet-proof popemobile, and circled the field once - thousands of people, many of them children, ran alongside to try and touch the vehicle.
   Many in the crowd wore T-shirts emblazoned with the faces of the Pope and King Abdullah, with the slogan "Jordan welcomes John Paul II".
   Muslim members of the royal family, including the king's mother, joined the cheering Catholics.
   Among the faithful at the mass were about 10,000 Christians exiled from Iraq. They said they would ask the Pope to pray for the embargo against their country to be lifted.
   The Pope, who is making the first papal visit to the region for 36 years, then travelled to neighbouring Israel and the Palestinian territories last night.
   Pope John Paul is only the second Pope in history to go to Jerusalem - which both the Israelis and Palestinians claim as their capital.
   The pontiff will also meet Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, tour a Palestinian refugee camp and pay a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.
   After touching down at Amman airport, the Pope said: "In this area of the world, there are grave and urgent issues of justice, of the rights of peoples and nations, which have to be resolved.
   "No matter how difficult, no matter how long, the process of seeking peace must continue."
   The security operation for the visit is being described as the biggest Israel has ever organised for a foreign dignitary. Israel is deploying 18,000 police officers and 4,000 soldiers - spending more than $8m on "Operation Old Friend".
   
BBC
22/3/00

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