MOUNT NEBO - JORDAN, MAR 19, 2000 - After the official welcome at Queen Alia International Airport the Pope was driven out to Mount Nebo where he started his pilgrimage in the Holy Land. On the road stretching from the airport to Mount Nebo the people of villages and towns awaited to have a glimpse of the car carrying the Pope. The town of Madaba was decorated with flags, streamers and posters for the occasion. Even the small village of Faysaliah, the last village before arriving at Mount Nebo presented itself in a festive mood for the occasion. The car with the Pope arrived in front of the Church of the Memorial of Moses where he was received by the Minister General of the Franciscan Order, Fr. Giacomo Bini ofm together with other friars among them Fr. Michele Piccirillo ofm, the archaeologist responsible for the Franciscan Archaeological Institute of Mount Nebo, and the Mayor of Madaba. Other friars were present for this historic moment and they were also joined by His Royal Highness Prince Hassan ibn Talal who today celebrated his 53rd birthday. Here, through a purposely-built stairway the Pope entered the church which was decorated for the occasion with "bedouin" carpets. The sound of the bell welcomed him inside the Church. The people gathered inside welcomed the Pope with an applause and he was escorted by Fr. Piccirillo who illustrated the sanctuary to his Holiness. The Pope kneeled down in prayer at the centre of the Church. These were very intense moments of prayer and meditation. Wearing a stole on his vestments the Pope led the assembly in prayer. "Divine providence gave me the possibility to visit Mt. Sinai. Now I am on this mountain from where Moses contemplated the Promised Land. In front of Jericho with the view going up to Jerusalem we lift up our prayers for all those who live in the Land of the Promise. Remembering of the words of Moses... "All the people are in your hands" the Pope blessed God who led his people in the desert under the guidance of Moses. From here Moses contemplated the Land promised to the elected people. "Look upon the people who are present in this land which has been blessed by the presence of Jesus Your Only Son. May all recognise you as the One and Only God who Loves all your children, through Christ Our Lord". A reading from the Book of Deuteronomy followed in which the "view of Moses from Mount Nebo" is recounted. The same text recounts the death of Moses and his burial in the valley. A moment of silence followed after which the Pope introduced the prayer of the Our Father. Then the Pope imparted his blessing on those present. The Pope then addressed the Minister General of the Friars Minor. Here on Mount Nebo I begin this day my pilgrimage. I think of the great figure of Moses and the Covenant he made with him on Mount Sinai. I dedicate every step of this journey to Jesus who sanctified this Land, he is the Beginning and End, the Alpha and Omega. The Holy Father referred to the Franciscans as Custodians of this sanctuary and blessed all those who live on this site. Then the Franciscans presented him with a medal while the Pope donated a Chalice to the sanctuary. Some children also paid homage to the Pope. The hymns Christus Vincit in Latin and Arabic brought to an end this moment of prayer at Mount Nebo. The children then starting chanting "John Paul Two we love you". The Pope blessed a commemorative plaque prepared for the occasion as a gesture of partecipation in the beginning of the restoration of the Memorial of Moses. The following text in Latin is incised on the metal plaque:
PROPHETAE ET HOMINI DEI
PROVINCIAE ARABIAE ET CIVITATIS MADABAE
SAECULO IV DICATUM
A FRATRIBUS MINORIBUS
CUSTODIAE TERRAE SANCTAE
PAPA IOHANNES PAULUS II
HIC INSPEXIT ATQUE BENEDIXIT
PERENNI MEMORIA ET AUSPICIO
DIE XX MARTII MM
In fact a team of architects is planning the restoration of the basilica to replace the temporary shelter built in 1963. The study of the project has been funded by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and by the Custody of Terra Sancta. The restoration of the Memorial of Moses, venerated by Christians, Muslims and Jews, will become a symbol of the new period of peace which the region is living. The message of peace and reconciliation stressed by the stone monument 5.50 m high erected at the entrance of the sanctuary on the occasion of the opening of the 2000 Holy Year.
After this the Pope went to the site of "the Memorial of Moses" accompanied by the Minister General and Fr. Piccirillo. The Pope was taken to see also the the baptistry mosaic in the north nave. The Holy Father then was accompanied to a specially prepared platform overlooking the Jordan Valley. Here he stopped in prayer and personal meditation after which he planted an olive tree with this inscription:
SYMBOLUM PACIS RESTITUTAE
PAPA JOHANNES PAULUS II PEREGRINUS
IN HOC SACRO MONTE
DIE XX MARTII MM
The Pope then, in the popemobil went down to the friary accompanied by the Minister General and the Custos of the Holy Land. Here he signed the guestbook and chatted in a friendly way with those present.
A gift by the Franciscan Archaeologists of Mount Nebo
to Pope John Paul II during his pilgrimage to the Memorial of Moses
The Franciscan archaeologists of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum since 1933 are based in the small monastery on Mount Nebo to excavate, restore and keep the ruins of the Memorial of Moses and the Byzantine-Ummayad heritage of the region of Madaba in collaboration with the Jordanian Department of Antiquities. Thanks to the international collaboration of Italy, USA and Canada one of the most important scientific and cultural projects undertaken was the opening in 1995 of the Madaba Archaeological Park in the centre of the city along the paved Roman road, and of the Madaba School for Mosaic Restoration.
The main monument at the cdentre of the Park is the Church of the Virgin (Mary) built in the second half of the Sixth Century, upon the ruins of a third century Roman temple, and of a Byzantine mansion known as the The Hippolythus Hall from the beautiful mosaic floor depicting the tragedy of Euripides and the personifications of Rome and Madaba discovered by the Franciscan Archaeologists in 1982.
In 767 A.D., at the time of bishop Theophanes (we are already under full moslem rulers), the mosaic floor of the church was paved anew with geometrical motifs and two highly theological Greek inscriptions. In the dedicatory inscription one can read the titles which christian piety has always given to the Mother of Jesus: Virgin, Theotokos (Mother of God), Immaculate, Queen...
The Franciscan community presented will Pope John Paul II, pilgrim to the Memorial of Moses on Mount Nebo a mosaic with a reduced copy of the central Greek inscription (767A.D.) which is found at the centre of the Church of the Virgin:
If you want to look at Mary, virginal Mother of God,
and to Christ whom she generated,
Universal King, only Son of the only God,
purify (your) mind, flesh and works!
May you purify with (your) prayer the people of God".
This inscription is surmounted by a ceramic sculpture depicting Our Lady with Child work of Fr. Alberto Farina while he was restoring the Grottos of Bethlehem in 1964/65 prior to Pope Paul VI visit to the Holy Land.
The Pope left Mount Nebo on his way to Amman where he is going for a courtesy visit to His Majesty King Abdullah II at his private residence of Bab El-Barak.