"It's important to us that he's visiting Bethlehem and Palestine first. ... It was a message for all Palestinians: I'm coming to visit you."
Most Israelis welcome Francis' visit to the Holy Land as a chance to show the world a side of Israel that supports tolerance and dialogue.
It sounds a little far-fetched and for some purists perhaps unthinkable: A pope, a rabbi and a sheik decide to travel to the Holy Land and follow in the steps of Jesus.
But that is just one of the groundbreaking aspects of Pope Francis’ three-day visit to the Middle East that starts on Saturday (May 24), a visit in which he hopes to shore up interfaith dialogue, strengthen diplomatic relations and find new ways to build peace.
A lack of courageous leadership has hampered the peace process, one woman said. "How many courageous hearts do we have in the world? Francis is a courageous heart."
A steady stream of Iraqi refugees, smiling and displaying purple index fingers, emerged from a polling station in the Hashemi Shamali district, where the majority of these urban refugees live in the Jordanian capital.
"Change is badly needed in Iraq. Hopefully the elections will yield a suitable leader. God is gracious," said Um Martin, a Chaldean Catholic woman from the biblical city of Ninevah in northern Iraq.
"Arab Christians are up to the challenge of reviving their presence. They should not rely solely on political circumstances, whether they are favorable or not."
When Pope Francis visits the Holy Land in May, he will follow the pattern he set last year in Brazil by meeting with the leaders of the three nations he will visit as well as with the less fortunate.
But the trip also will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, and it is for that reason the theme of the trip is: "So that they may be one."
As Syria's civil war hurtles into its fourth year, hopes of returning home soon seem far off for the 2.5 million refugees sheltering in neighboring countries, like Jordan. Syrians are soon expected to overtake Afghans as the largest refugee population in the world, according to the United Nations.
Top U.N. officials warn that the grinding conflict will leave a generation of 5.5 million children -- in and outside Syria -- physically and emotionally scarred. But American street artist Samantha Robison is working hard to change that.
The Peace Pulpit: The challenge to us today is to be the salt of the earth, to be the light that shines in the darkness. Listen to Bishop Gumbleton's homily.
Syrians fleeing to neighboring Jordan from the besieged central city of Homs said some people there are starving to death for lack of food.
"People are dying of hunger especially, babies and young children," said Um Mohamed, the mother of four children, who fled with her family to this northern Jordanian town in mid-2013 after her son was hit in the chest with shrapnel from an exploding bomb.
"There is no milk, no basics are available," she said, citing phone conversations with family members stuck in Homs.