Pope Francis to make middle east visit in May
Pope Francis is to visit biblical sites in Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories in May, his first trip to the Christian Holy Land as pontiff and only the fourth by a pope since biblical times.
The May 24-26 trip to Amman, Jerusalem and Bethlehem will mark the 50th anniversary of a historic trip to the region by Pope Paul VI. Pope John Paul II visited in 2000 and Benedict XVI went in 2009.
Apart from its significance for Roman Catholic relations with Jews and Muslims, Francis' trip will hold major importance for relations among Christians because it will include a meeting in Jerusalem with the spiritual head of the world's Orthodox Christians, as well as Anglican and Protestant leaders.
Francis, who has made many appeals for peace in the Middle East since his election in March, announced the trip to thousands of people gathered in St. Peter's Square for his Sunday address. He had been invited to visit by both Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres.
Many key biblical sites are in Israel's Galilee region but Bethlehem, revered as the birthplace of Jesus, is in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, in the Palestinian Territories.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built over the spot where Jesus is said to have been buried, is in Arab East Jerusalem, which Palestinians want as the capital of their future state.