Tidbits of Arabic News translated into English

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Seeing Pope Francis in Jordan

The Pope held a mass at the sports stadium in Amman on May 24. For the weeks preceding, Amman has had signs like this at all major intersections: the Pope and the King shaking hands!

Though the service was in the afternoon, while still in bed that morning I could already hear horns from the heavy traffic blaring every so often from the road.

There was a lot of security, or at least the appearance of security. There was police, traffic police, and men in camouflage with the word 'Gendarmerie' sewn into their uniforms. Those are the security forces that carry large rifles, and you see them outside of ministries and embassies. On that day, they were on guard for the Pope.

There was also a cluster of female cops standing outside the entrance to the stadium grounds directing traffic! The road was jammed with cars so there was great need for direction. Every so often a truck labeled 'police' would drive up and deliver cases of water and soda for the police.

To get into the stadium, you were supposed to bring an ID card ... except no one checked for it. All you had to do was show your ticket to the phalanx of armed men at the main Sports City entrance. They were really nice, and even tried to help you out if you had two different tickets and were wondering which was the better view. (The tickets were distributed freely at churches all over Amman, and you didn't have to be Catholic, or even Christian, to get one.)

Once you were inside the Sports City, you walked along past police and armed forces every few feet. You walked towards the stadium, and then started walking around and around it until you reached whatever stadium entrance was printed on your ticket. Once you found the correct point of entry, that was where the real security check took place.

First, the men and women were separated. The men had to go through an x-ray machine, and then their bags were manually searched (ha!)

The women were not searched bodily at all. All we faced was two ladies sitting at a table. We handed them our bags, they unzipped just the biggest pocket, not bothering with the smaller ones, took a quick peek, and handed them back.

Inside the stadium, there were volunteers everywhere to point out the way, and they also handed every person coming in a small plastic bottle of water. That is bad for the environment, but it was nicely organized. The volunteers came by every two hours or so to offer you more water.  We estimated an attendance of around 20,000 people, counting all the seats laid out in the field.

And they'd even placed booklets so you could follow the service on each seat, and a book about the Pope and the church. A choir was up at the front by the Papal tent, warming up.

And they had ambulances to take away people who had fainted.

In order to keep the crowds entertained as we waited for hours, the Catholic Church had written songs especially for the occasion, songs all about the 'Baba' (Pope in Arabic). It was a good thing for the song writers that Amman and Salam almost rhyme, they got good mileage from that. We listened to the songs about Baba Fransees on repeat about fifty times, and they even rhymed 'Fransees' with 'peace!' Then they went into long choruses of Hallelulia! The singers got really enthused and started wailing with excitement by the end of the songs. It was great.

Meanwhile, everyone was waving their flags in time to the rhythm. There were the red-green-white-black Jordanian flags with the single star, and Iraqi flags, probably carried by Christians who'd had their churches blown up there, and flags that said 'PACE', and a single French flag, flags from Lebanon, an entire contingent from Argentina (Pope Francis is from Argentina), Egyptian, and for every Jordanian flag there was a yellow and white Vatican flag. It was all very festive.

There were kids dressed in white robes, some with wreaths in their hair, walking hand in hand across the field.

At 1 pm, a Jordanian elder in the Catholic Church came to the microphone under the Papal tent. He said, in Arabic: '
Good day! (cheers!)
Good something else! (cheers!)
Good day to the great Kingdom of Jordan etc etc (loudest cheers yet)

Then he kept on going:
Jordan of the security and peace! (cheers!)
Jordan  of the best of something! (cheers!)
Jordan of knowledge! (cheers!)
He had about ten great epithets for Jordan, and finally closed with:
Jordan with the wonderful King! (loudest cheers!)
And then:
The Baba's plane has landed on the blessed kingdom of Jordan! And the King is with him! May the King live!
Crowd yells back: He'll live!
Man at the microphone: May he live!
Crowd yells back: He'll live!
Man at the microphone: May he live!
Crowd yells back: He'll live!

Three times is a charm, so the man at the microphone moved on to the Baba:
Viva el Baba!
Viva el Baba!
Viva el Baba!
But this time, no one yelled back an echo. We speculated because 'viva' is a harder word.

Then we listened to songs about Baba Fransees for another hour, then around 2 pm, the man at the microphone returned. This time, he said:
Here we have Jordan: Muslims and Christians as one! (loudest cheers yet!)
This is a land of respect!
He went on and on.

When he was done, we had another hour of songs about Baba Fransees on repeat.

3 pm: the man at the microphone was back, this time to announce that el Baba Fransees was in the car, and on the way. In celebration of the moment of anticipation, we got more songs on repeat!

Then we heard more praise of Jordan: Jordan is a distinguished country! Jordan is in the holy land! Jordan where many important religions live! And for all time, Jordan blessed and in peace ...

More songs, and then more speeches in Arabic:
We welcome Jordanians from all over Jordan! (cheers!)
We welcome our friends from other Arab countries (loud cheers!)
And to our friends from all over the world, ahlen we sehlen! Repeats in English: "Welcome to Jordan!" (loudest cheers yet!)
Welcome to the wonderful people watching on TV at home! (cheers!)

Just at this moment, we saw military helicopters circling overhead! Everyone yelled out, the King has come!

Just a bit later, the Pope arrived. Before he entered the stadium, the man at the microphone led again in three cheers of 'may he live' for the King, and then three cheers of 'viva el Baba' for the Pope, and this time everyone was prepared and yelled back 'viva'!

Finally, the Pope himself appeared in his white car.

He circled the track all the way around the stadium before it stopped at the Papal tent up front, waving at everyone. Of course, this whole time, the Baba Fransees songs were back in full swing. As the Pope made his way around, the people who had the tickets for special seats right in the field were running from corner to corner, tailing him and trying to get to shake his hand. Twice the white car stopped, and the security people and volunteers holding everyone back transferred a baby from a mother behind the fence to the Pope standing in his car, for a blessing.

Contrary to the military helicopters, the King never showed. The Pope started his sermon and the readings and the choir singing. He has a gentle, detached, philosophical voice that was nice to hear; despite that, the service kind of dragged. Probably because half of it was in Italian and no one knew what was being said.

So it turns out the Baba Fransees songs on repeat were the best part of it all. Y'all, the songs are in Spanish, English, and Arabic. This is not a chance to be missed! In fact, your life is certainly not complete unless you listen to them once a day:

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