AMMAN - Pope Benedict said at the start of a politically sensitive tour of Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories on Friday he hoped the Roman Catholic Church could contribute to peace in the Middle East.

Speaking on his flight to Amman, the 82-year-old pontiff said peace efforts in the region were often blocked by partisan interests and the Church could provide spiritual help in the search for a solution.

We are not a political power but a spiritual force and this spiritual force is a reality that can contribute to progress in the peace process, he told journalists aboard his airplane.

The German-born pope faces a complicated balancing act during his May 8-15 Holy Land pilgrimage between the Church's relations with Israel and its support for Palestinian rights.

The new Israeli government's critical stand on the two-state solution to the Palestinian problem makes any statement from Benedict on the peace process all the more delicate.

Both sides to the conflict, as well as his Jordanian hosts, will listen closely to anything the pope says on the topic, particularly when he visits a Palestinian refugee camp within sight of the barrier Israel has built near Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank.

In Jordan, Benedict will visit a mosque -- only the second during his papacy -- and sites where the Bible says Jesus was baptized and Moses viewed the Promised Land and died. He will also celebrate an outdoor Mass and meet religious leaders.

The second half of his trip takes him to Jerusalem and other Biblical sites such as Bethlehem in the Palestinian territories and the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.