UK & World News
Pope Calls For 'Urgent' End To Syrian War
Pope Francis has said there is an "urgent" need for a peaceful solution to the Syria crisis, on the first day of a visit to the Middle East.
The Pontiff was speaking in Amman following a meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah II, in which he also called for a "just" solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
King Abdullah praised the Pope for his "humanity and wisdom" saying his visit would help ease the suffering of the Syrian refugees and the burden of host countries like Jordan where most have fled.
He added the Pontiff had "become a conscience for the whole world".
Pope Francis then held a public mass in Amman's main sports stadium, attended by around 25,000 people, many of whom were Christian refugees who have fled Syria and Iraq.
The 77-year-old Pontiff did laps of the stadium to adoring cheers in an open-top vehicle, stopping to bless some of those who had gathered and kiss babies.
The whirl-wind visit will last just over 48 hours, but in that time the head of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics will also visit the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Israel, hold talks with national leaders and deliver 13 speeches or homilies.
The Vatican says the aim is raise awareness of the exodus of Christians from the region in the face of increasing persecution, as well as to call for greater unity between the Catholic and Orthodox churches.
In an effort to promote inter-religious dialogue, the Pope will be accompanied by a Rabbi and an Imam, both close friends from his home city of Buenos Aires in Argentina.
But while the Vatican insists the visit is a "strictly religious" mission, the programme is fraught with potential political stumbling blocks, and every word delivered will be subject to intense scrutiny.
On Sunday, he will fly by helicopter to Bethlehem, where he will hold a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas before commencing a public mass in Manger Square, outside the Church of the Nativity.
Mayor of Bethlehem, Vera Baboun, says she believes his message will be one of hope for many Palestinians.
"The Pope is an adamant believer in peace, and adamant believer in the right of the discriminated-against and the marginalised", she told Sky News.
"When he comes here, he will be praying for peace to the Palestinians, praying the message of peace from the place that the message was ordained."
Following the mass he will meet with children at the Deheisheh Palestinian refugee camp near Bethlehem, before heading to Tel Aviv to receive an official welcome to Israel from President Shimon Peres, and then on to Jerusalem.
The 50th anniversary of an historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and Orthodox Patriarch Athenagoras, which ended hundreds of years of division between the two branches of Christianity, will be marked by a joint prayer meeting of Catholic and Orthodox priests at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
The final day of the visit will see Pope Francis visit the grounds of the Al Aqsa Mosque as well as the Western Wall, the most holy site in Judaism, and the Holocaust memorial at Yad Vashem, before a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The visit will conclude with a mass at the Cenacle in Jerusalem, the site at which the last supper is thought to have taken place.