By Sarah Mac Donald - 06 January, 2014
Pope Francis confirmed on Sunday that he will visit Holy Land sites in Jordan, Jerusalem and the Palestinian Territories in May, in his first trip to the area as pontiff.
The Pope’s three-day trip will run from May 24 to May 26, and will include a meeting with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, as well as meetings with the Muslim and Jewish communities.
The visit will take in Amman, Jerusalem and Bethlehem and is intended to mark the 50th anniversary of a landmark trip there by Pope Paul VI in 1964, the first by a pope in modern times.
Pope John Paul II visited the Holy Land in 2000 and Pope Benedict XVI went in 2009.
The auxiliary bishop of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, William Shomali, told Vatican Radio that the community in the Holy Land is “expecting a lot from this visit”.
“Christians, Jews and Muslims (in the Holy Land) are counting on this visit to intensify the ecumenical and the interreligious relationships,” he said.
He said one of the highlights will be the encounter between Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, along with all of the bishops and patriarchs of the Holy City.
He also expressed the hope that this visit would advance relations with the Orthodox Church.
“We want more opening from the part of the Orthodox and the Catholics on the issue of the primacy of the Pope, because the Orthodox have this difficulty of accepting the primacy as Catholics believe in it,” said Bishop Shomali. “I believe that the Holy Father, Pope Francis, and the Orthodox are willing to make more progress in this dialogue.”
“We pray, because we have to expect also that the Holy Spirit will inspire Pope Francis in this visit and make it a success,” the bishop concluded. “We count not only on human endeavours but on the blessing of the Lord.”
Pope Francis has made many appeals for peace in the Middle East since his election last March.
The Pope announced the trip at Sunday’s Angelus attended by tens of thousands of pilgrims assembled in St Peter’s Square.
He was invited by both Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres.