Pope celebrates Vespers, encourages Eastern Christians to give witness

pppopev2.jpgPope Benedict leaving the Cathedral of St. GeorgeAmman, Jordan, (CNA).- Shouts of “Viva el Papa” and “Benedicto” rung out in the Greek Melkite Cathedral of St. George in Amman as Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Vespers on Saturday evening. He challenged Eastern Catholics to continue resolutely testifying to the faith.

The hour and 30 minute celebration involved a procession with the Gospel, signing in Arabic by a 50 member choir, Pope Benedict receiving an icon of Sts. Peter and Paul and a speech by the Holy Father.

In his speech, Pope Benedict encouraged the Church in the Middle East to persist in giving witness to the saving power of Jesus, despite the hardships they endure in several countries. The presence of Iraqi Christians, who had fled persecution in their home countries, was evidenced by the Iraqi and other flags they waved to greet the Pope.

The Holy Father reminded those gathered in St. George’s Cathedral that, “All Christians are called to respond actively to the Lord’s mandate – as Saint George did in dramatic ways according to popular record – to bring others to know and love him.

“In fact the vicissitudes of history have strengthened the members of particular Churches to embrace this task with vigor and to engage resolutely with the pastoral realities of today,” he said.

As Pope Benedict exited the cathedral, the faithful swarmed to the center isle, once again wishing him a long life and chanting his name in Italian.

On Sunday, the Pope will celebrate Mass in Amman’s International Stadium for tens of thousands people. Later in the day, the Pontiff will visit the site where Jesus was baptized in the Jordan by John the Baptist.