Pope thanks Jordan for welcoming Syrian civil war refugees, urges 'urgent' end to conflict

The Associated Press

In this photo provided by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis is welcomed upon his arrival in Amman, Jordan, Saturday, May 24, 2014. (AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano, ho)

Associated Press + More

By NICOLE WINFIELD, Associated Press

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — Pope Francis has thanked Jordan for welcoming hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria, calling for an "urgent," peaceful solution to the conflict.

His comments come as he began a three-day visit Saturday to the Middle East

Pope Francis also lauded Jordan for the "serene coexistence" enjoyed by Christians and Muslims here and called for greater protections for minority Christians across the region in prepared remarks to King Abdullah II and Jordanian political and religious leaders at the royal palace.

Francis' plane touched down at Amman's Queen Alia International Airport on Saturday afternoon, his first stop in a busy trip that will bring him to the West Bank city of Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

During the flight from Rome, Francis told reporters the intense trip would be "very challenging" but rewarding.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.