Drive-by at the Jordan River

What Jordan calls the "Baptism Site" at the Jordan River

What Jordan calls the "Baptism Site" at the Jordan River

AMMAN, Jordan — It sounded like a photographer’s dream: Pope Benedict was to pay a personal visit to the presumed site of Christ’s baptism at the Jordan River, standing above stone-rimmed pools uncovered by recent archeological excavations.

The place had to be especially significant to the pope, who set the first chapter of his book, “Jesus of Nazareth,” at this precise spot. The visit was considered one of the highlights of his biblical pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

The photo and print journalists were in place hours before the pope arrived. He rode at the head of a convoy of electric vehicles that resembled oversized golf carts.

The setting was indeed perfect, and so was the late afternoon lighting as the pontiff listened to an expert describe the site. But the pope didn’t follow the script — he never got out of his cart, never approached the water, and in the end the photographers down by the river were practically shut out.

Photographers await the pope at the Jordan River

Photographers await the pope at the Jordan River

“Never file a picture in your mind before you’ve taken it,” remarked Greg Tarczynski, a well-known photographer for Catholic and other media outlets, who was in Jordan for the papal visit.

Tarczynski, his shoes muddy from standing on the banks of the river, thought he was in position for the perfect shot. Instead, like the others, he quickly gathered his equipment and hustled after the pope to a dusty plain a half-mile away.

There, about 800 people were waiting in the sun in front of a makeshift pavilion next to the site of a new Catholic Church. Their songs and applause echoed off the sides of a barren hill. Atop the hill stood a huge cross. Two flags, Vatican and Jordanian, fluttered in the stiff breeze.

A hole in the ground held the poured concrete foundations of the Latin-rite church, and a sign indicated where a second church, this one of the Melkite rite, would soon be built.

It was a place out in the middle of nowhere, but these people were eager to put it on the map. Sitting in the late afternoon sun, the pope was happy to oblige, delivering a speech and staying for more than an hour. On this day, he seemed even more interested in the church’s future than its past.

Force of 80,000 to provide papal security in Israel

JERUSALEM (CNS) — An 80,000-person security force will provide security for the pope while he is in Israel, said an Israeli police spokesman.

On a daily basis there will be 30,000 police officers, undercover agents, and private security officers working, Police Chief Inspector Micky Rosenfeld said May 10. He said that of that number, some 6,000 police officers and other agents will be specifically in the vicinity of the pope at all times.

Rosenfeld said the security measures were the largest police operation since Pope John Paul II’s visit in 2000.

On the eve of the pope’s visit there had not been any specific security threat, he said, nor any requests for demonstration permits either for or against the pope’s visit. If such requests were to come in they would be considered taking into account security and location issues, he said.

“As soon as any intelligence information is received it will be dealt with by us constantly and instantly,” he said.

Although high-profile visitors are nothing new to Israel and presidents and other political leaders visit Jerusalem on a regular basis, what makes the pope’s visit unique is the number of sites he will visit in such a short amount of time, said Rosenfeld. In addition, he said, the number of people traveling with him — some 300 Vatican press corps members, Vatican officials and security personnel will be accompanying the pope — requires additional coordination.

Another unique exceptional security concern will come on the second day of the pope’s visit, which falls after the Jewish celebration of Lab B’Omer, which is popularly marked by gatherings around a bonfire. Because of the immense number of such bonfires there is always a lingering cloud of smoke the next day, noted Rosenfeld, and that can potentially pose a problem of visibility for the helicopter security that will be used for the pope.

During the pope’s visit to the Old City of Jerusalem May 12, all 320 of the closed-circuit cameras installed in the streets and used for general security on other days will be used to monitor the security of the pope, he said.

Rosenfeld said some shops and stores in the Old City were likely to be told to be closed during the pope’s passage through the old city for security reasons, based on their location, but others will remain open, as the Vatican has requested. He said stores asked to close would be permitted to open once the pope has left the area.

“Anyone with an identity card showing his place of residence there will be able to pass through, just like in any other part of the city,” he added.

Security for the pope’s crossing from Jerusalem into Bethlehem, West Bank, has been fully coordinated with Palestinian security, Rosenfeld said.

Though Jerusalem is preparing for major closing of streets to traffic during the pope’s visit, pedestrians will have several opportunities to see the pope in his car, including when he drives through Jerusalem on his way to Bethlehem, said Rosenfeld.

Jerusalem will present the most challenging security issues, said Rosenfeld.

“It is very claustrophobic in areas and there are areas which are very tight. We are talking about a lot of respectable and honorable people he is scheduled to meet, and there are a lot of sensitivities about the different areas where he will be meeting,” he said.

Patriarch’s greeting to pope at Mass in Amman

Here is the prepared text of  the greeting to Pope Benedict XVI by Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal of Jerusalem at Mass this morning in Amman’s International Stadium. Amman has Catholics of many rites, but the Jerusalem patriarchate’s territory includes Latin-rite Catholics in Jordan. Continue reading

Pope Benedict’s talk at Bethany Beyond the Jordan

AMMAN, Jordan — Here is the Vatican text of Pope Benedict XVI’s talk this afternoon at the blessing of cornerstones for two churches at Bethany Beyond the Jordan: Continue reading

Mount Nebo: the wine

It was a nicely rounded red, with graceful hints of currant and some distinctly biblical overtones.

Mount Nebo Cabernet

Mount Nebo Cabernet

Mount Nebo is renowned as the place where Moses glimpsed the Promised Land. We journalists following Pope Benedict’s Holy Land pilgrimage saw it as a stony highland with an Old Testament austerity.

But from vineyards in the valleys below, closer to the Jordan River, comes Mount Nebo Cabernet, as the label declares, the “Wine of the Holy Land.”

The label depicts the modern sculpture representing the “brazen serpent” created by Moses at God’s command to heal the Israelites from snake bites. The image is cited in the New Testament as a symbol of Christ.

We sampled the wine at dinner last night in the Amman hotel where reporters on the Volo Papale are staying. It was well-balanced, a little young (we drank the 2007 vintage) but not too tannic. Rich and elegant was the judgment at our table, especially after the second bottle.

Pope Benedict’s homily at Mass in Amman

AMMAN, Jordan — Here is the Vatican text of Pope Benedict XVI’s homily at Mass this morning in Amman’s International Stadium: Continue reading