The Pope has expressed deep respect for Islam and said he hoped the Catholic Church could aid Middle Eastern peace as he began his first trip to the region.
He was met at Jordan’s airport by King Abdullah and praised the moderate Arab country as a leader in efforts to promote peace in the region and dialogue between Christians and Muslims.
The Pope angered many in the Muslim world with a 2006 speech in which he quoted a Medieval text that characterised some of the Prophet Mohammed’s teachings as “evil and inhuman,” particularly “his command to spread by the sword the faith”.
The Pope has already said he was “deeply sorry” over the reaction to his speech and that the passage he quoted did not reflect his own opinion.
“My visit to Jordan gives me a welcome opportunity to speak of my deep respect for the Muslim community and to pay tribute to the leadership shown by his majesty the king in promoting a better understanding of the virtues proclaimed by Islam,” he said shortly after landing in Amman.
However his past comments continue to fuel criticism by some Muslims.
Jordan’s hard-line Muslim Brotherhood said its members would boycott his visit because he did not issue a public apology as they demanded.
A spokesman said the absence of a public apology meant “obstacles and boundaries will remain and will overshadow any possible understanding between the Pope and the Muslim world”.
The Brotherhood is Jordan’s largest opposition group. Although it commands a small bloc in parliament, it wields considerable sway.
A Vatican spokesman said it had made all possible clarifications, adding: “We cannot continue until the end of the world to repeat the same clarifications.”
The Pope expressed hope that his visit and the power of the Catholic Church could help further peace efforts between the Israelis and Palestinians.
“We are not a political power but a spiritual power that can contribute,” he said.
The Pope will also visit Israel and the Palestinian territories during his week-long tour.
Jordan’s king praised the pontiff. He said: “We welcome your commitment to dispel the misconceptions and divisions that have harmed relations between Christians and Muslims.”