Amman (AFP) - The roar of crowds welcoming Pope Francis to Jordan echoed in the dust-filled streets surrounding Amman's stadium on Saturday, where families waving Vatican flags chanted his name under the hot desert sun.

"It's a great feeling. I am so happy. We've come all the way here -- young and old, men, women and children -- to see the pope. We need his blessing," said Warda Khoury, 23, from the northeastern city of Mafraq.

Touching down in the capital at lunchtime, at the start of his first tour of the Holy Land, the pope was met by two children dressed in traditional Jordanian costume who handed him bouquets of iris, the national flower of Jordan.

Well-wishers cried "Long live the pope" and waved Vatican flags as the small white car carrying the pontiff snaked in a motorcade across the city under the watchful eye of armed security guards, who handed out water to the crowds.

"Francis is a global phenomenon, it's hugely exciting to be here to see him. Just his presence is a symbol of hope and the possibility of change," said Bernadette, a 29-year-old housekeeper from the Philippines who lives in Amman.

As the crowd-loving pope entered the stadium on an open-topped jeep, he smiled and waved to the masses, his white skullcap flying off in the breeze.

View galleryPope Francis arrives at Marka International Airport …
Pope Francis arrives at Marka International Airport in the Jordanian capital Amman, on May 24, 2014 …
Babies and toddlers were passed up to him for a quick blessing as balloons were released into the air and an Arabic pop song echoed through the stadium.

Thousands of people were packed into blue and red chairs in front of a large altar, over which was draped with a yellow and white canopy and behind which hung posters of John Paul II and John XXIII, whom Francis canonised last month.

Youngsters wrapped in blue "PEACE" flags crowded near the big screens to get a better view, and chased after the pope's jeep calling out "Francis! Francis!"

Job Arts, who came to see the pontiff from Holland with his 15-year-old son, said it was "a unique chance to see someone who is inspiring a whole generation bring his message of peace and friendship to this region."

"I don't think he can change things, but he can make people think," he said.

The pope had been greeted by a rousing Scottish bagpipes reel at the palace, where he met King Abdullah II and Queen Rania -- a vocal campaigner for cross-cultural and interfaith dialogue -- who matched the pope in white, with a dress with red flowers on the hem.

There, the pope gave his first speech of the trip, calling for religious freedom in a region ravaged by war and bloodshed, where a dwindling Christian population faces daily persecution.

Catholic mother-of-three Leen said his words were "hugely important. I fear for my children's future if nothing is done to protect Christians here."

But 18-year-old Laith, who works in a small corner shop near the palace and followed the pope's speech on Twitter, said "he was right to call for peace, but how much really can a man in a white robe do to change things in our land?"