Pope Francis announced today that he would travel to Israel, the West Bank and Jordan on May 24-26, his first visit to the Holy Land.
The planned visit comes amid a new US push for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
told people gathered in the rain for his weekly Sunday blessing that he
was announcing, "in the climate of joy that is typical of the Christmas
season," the three-day visit to Amman, Bethlehem and Jerusalem.
is the only trip so far confirmed for 2014 and the second foreign trip
of Francis' pontificate, following his 2013 visit to Brazil for World
Francis said the prime aim is to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the historic meeting in Jerusalem between Pope Paul VI and the then-spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Atengora.
will be joined by the current ecumenical patriarch, Bartholomew. They
will celebrate Mass together at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where
the faithful believe Jesus was crucified and buried, Francis said.
the visit will also underscore Francis' close ties to the Jewish
community and the Vatican's long-standing call for peace between Israel
and the Palestinians.
The announcement was made just as US Secretary of State John Kerry wrapped up three days of talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in a new US bid for peace.
his Christmas address last month, Francis singled out the Holy Land for
prayers, saying: "Bless the land where you chose to come into the
world, and grant a favourable outcome to the peace talks between
Israelis and Palestinians."
The Argentine Jesuit will be the fourth pope to visit the Holy Land: Paul visited in 1964, John Paul II in 2000, and Benedict XVI in 2009.