Pope Francis arrives in Jordan

(CNN) -- Pope Francis arrived in Jordan on Saturday on the first leg of a trip to the Holy Land, on which he is accompanied by a rabbi and a Muslim cleric from his home country of Argentina.

Descending the steps of the plane in Amman, he was greeted by a boy and girl bearing flowers and a line of local dignitaries and clergy.

Besides Jordan, the pope will visit Bethlehem and Jerusalem with Rabbi Abraham Skorka, who co-wrote a book with the pontiff, and Sheikh Omar Abboud, who leads Argentina's Muslim community.

The Holy Land visit is the first for Francis as leader of the Roman Catholic Church, and just the fourth for any pontiff in the modern era.

The religion of the pope's traveling companions is no coincidence.

"It's highly symbolic, of course," said the Rev. Thomas Rosica, a consultant to the Vatican press office.

"But it also sends a pragmatic message to Muslims, Christians and Jews that it's possible to work together -- not as a system of checks and balances but as friends."

Pope Francis is expected to call attention to the poor and downtrodden during his 36-hour visit.

In Jordan, the pope will greet some of the 600,000 Syrians that have fled since the start of the civil war in 2011, as well as refugees from Iraq. He will also celebrate Mass and visit the Jordan River, where many Christians believe Jesus was baptized.

In Bethlehem, Frances will greet children from refugee camps, celebrate Mass in Manger Square, lunch with Palestinian families, and visit the site of Jesus' birth. The pope is expected to call for a Palestinian state, which has long been Vatican policy.

And in Jerusalem, the pontiff will meet the city's grand mufti and chief rabbis, visit the Western Wall and Yad Vashem, a memorial to the Holocaust, and lay a wreath on the grave of the founder of modern Zionism. He will also celebrate Mass at the site of the Last Supper.

The papal visit will include high-profile meetings as well. Frances will meet with Jordan's King Abdullah II, with the President of the Palestinian Authority in Bethlehem, and with Israel's Prime Minister and President while in Jerusalem.


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