Image: Jordanian children hold welcome poster for pope
Nader Daoud  /  AP
Jordanian children holds a welcome poster for Pope Benedict XVI during a mass in Amman, Jordan, Saturday, May 2. Benedict's eight-day pilgrimage, which begins Friday, will take him to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories.
updated 5/3/2009 12:58:15 PM ET 2009-05-03T16:58:15

A Jordanian hotel owner preparing a lunch for the pope spent five weeks coming up with a choice of five menus for the upcoming visit and is still agonizing over what could go wrong — just as he did when John Paul II visited nine years ago.

Said Sawalha said the Vatican chose a light meal of beef medallions, vegetables and pineapple cake, a menu designed to keep the 81-year-old Benedict XVI's energy up on his Holy Land tour starting later this week in Jordan.

"I have been having anxieties that anything could go wrong," said Sawalha, owner of the Regency Hotel in Amman. "I mapped out plan Bs to everything, from having the pineapple cake fall to a flat tire as we transport the food to the banquet hall."

Jordan's King Abdullah II was not invited to the May 10 lunch, in keeping with the pope's normal practice of not dining with political leaders. Last year, the White House threw a birthday lunch for the pope while he was in Washington during his U.S. pilgrimage. The pope did not attend, even though most U.S. cardinals did.

Meal labeled as 'private lunch'
But Benedict accepted an invitation from Sawalha, who hosted the late Pope John Paul II during his pilgrimage to Jordan nine years ago.

The Vatican labeled the meal as a "private lunch" with 320 bishops and patriarchs to be held at the Latin Vicariate in Amman following a public mass during the pope's tour Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories starting May 8. Benedict XVI said he hopes his trip will promote peace and reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinians.

He said he has worked for the last five weeks, consulting with top chefs in Jordan and abroad, to set a menu for the Pope's lunch.

A pineapple cake decorated with yellow and white cream, resembling the Vatican emblem, will be served for desert.

In Jordan, Benedict is scheduled to visit the biblical baptismal site of Jesus Christ, officially recognized by the Vatican on the Jordanian side of the Jordan River, and Mt. Nebo, where Moses is said to have first viewed the Promised Land.

Jordan wants to use the pope's upcoming pilgrimage to showcase its Holy Land treasures to the world, hoping to boost its religious tourism that is often overshadowed by neighboring Israel. Jordan's other religious sites include the world's oldest purpose-built church near Aqaba, a cave where Lot sheltered from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and Aaron's tomb at Petra.

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