AMMAN, Jordan – Pope Francis denounced arms dealers and appealed Saturday for an urgent end to the Syrian civil war as he began his three-day trip to the Middle East with an emotional meeting with refugees from Syria and Iraq who have fled to Jordan.
Francis deviated from his prepared remarks to make a strong plea for peace during his first day in Jordan, praying for God to convert those who seek war, those who make and sell weapons.
We all want peace, but looking at the tragedy of war, looking at the wounded, seeing so many people who left their homeland who were forced to go away, I ask, Who sells weapons to these people to make war?’ he asked.
This is the root of evil, the hatred, the love of money, he said.
His tough words echoed the diatribe he delivered a few weeks ago against mobsters in Italy, denouncing their activities and praying that they turn away from evil to embrace a more dignified life.
The appeal during a meeting with war refugees came just moments after the pontiff bent down at the Jordan River, where some believe was the site of Jesus’ baptism, and touched the waters.
And it capped an intense day at the start of his first visit as pope to the Holy Land.
Vive il papa, a group of schoolchildren waving Vatican flags shouted as the pope arrived earlier Saturday at the royal palace for private talks with King Abdullah II, Queen Rania and their children.
Francis thanked Jordan for its generous welcome to Syrian refugees and called for an urgent resolution to the civil war next door.
The pope saw the refugee exodus firsthand, meeting with about 600 Syrian and Iraqi refugees and disabled children at a church in Bethany beyond the Jordan.
Francis also called for peace and reconciliation during an afternoon Mass at Amman’s international stadium, urging the faithful to put aside our grievances and divisions for the sake of peace.