Pope plans rare trip to Holy Land

Pope Francis says his upcoming trip to the Holy Land aims to boost relations with Orthodox Christians.

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis says his upcoming trip to the Holy Land aims to boost relations with Orthodox Christians. But the three-day visit in May also underscores Francis’ close ties to the Jewish community, his outreach to Muslims and the Vatican’s longstanding call for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

The announcement was made Sunday just as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry wrapped up talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in a new bid for peace.

Francis told thousands gathered in the rain for his weekly Sunday blessing that he would visit Amman, Bethlehem and Jerusalem on May 24-26. It is the only papal trip confirmed so far for 2014 and the second foreign trip of Francis’ pontificate, following his 2013 visit to Brazil.

Francis, an Argentine Jesuit, will be the fourth pope to visit the Holy Land after Paul VI’s landmark visit in 1964.

In his Christmas address, 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.”

As archbishop of Buenos Aires, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio — now Pope Francis — made interreligious dialogue a top priority, hosting an annual interfaith ceremony in the Argentine capital’s cathedral to promote religious harmony and writing a book on faith with his good friend, Rabbi Abraham Skorka.

“We are hoping for a new glimmer of light from this visit in relations with the Orthodox, with Muslims and Jews,” Monsignor William Shomali, auxiliary bishop in Jerusalem, said Sunday.

All three governments welcomed the papal visit. The Palestinian news agency Wafa said President Mahmoud Abbas hoped it would “contribute to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people who aspire for freedom, justice and independence.”

In Jerusalem, Israeli Foreign Ministry Yigal Palmor said Francis was “will be greeted as warmly as his predecessors were.”

Jordan’s Royal Palace said the Amman leg of Francis’ visit would mark a “significant milestone for brotherhood and forgiveness between Muslims and Christians and consolidates the message of peace.”

Francis said his prime aim was 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.

Catholics and Orthodox have been divided since the Great Schism of 1054, precipitated largely by disagreements over the primacy of the pope.

Francis will be joined in Jerusalem 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’ full itinerary hasn’t been released, but Rabbi Skorka said he hopes the pope will stop at the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray in Jerusalem.

The Catholic Church in the Holy Land said the visit was aimed “mainly at spreading and promoting love, co-operation and peace among all inhabitants.”

After decades of reluctance by the Vatican to recognize the Jewish state, the Polish-born John Paul II forged formal relations in 1993, following it up with an official visit to Israel in 2000 that included stops at the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem and at the Western Wall, where he famously left a handwritten plea asking forgiveness for Christian persecution.

The German-born Pope Benedict XVI followed up nine years later with his own visit.

Just Posted

Olympic ski run designer creates upgrades at Canyon Ski Resort

Jeff Ihaksi says free-style and alpine ski venues are Canada Winter Games-worthy

Updated: Collision expert backs version of crash of driver accused of manslaughter

Daniel Newsham accused of manslaughter in fatal 2016 collision

Red Deer artist highlights the dinosaur connection of Alberta birds

Jeff Powers is fascinated by winged creatures

Murder charges laid against woman from the Sunchild First Nation

The 25-year-old female victim was found dead on Dec. 12

WATCH: CP Holiday Train rolls into Lacombe

Kelly Prescott performed for hundreds of Central Albertans

McDavid, Draisaitl with three points each to lead Oiles over Flyers

Oilers 4, Flyers 1 EDMONTON — Connor McDavid had two goals and… Continue reading

Fashion Fridays: How to change your beauty routine

Kim XO, lets you in on her style secrets each Fashion Friday on the Black Press Media Network

WHL’s Thunderbirds, Silvertips open to NHL joining Seattle hockey market

TORONTO — The Seattle area’s major junior hockey teams aren’t worried about… Continue reading

Canadian freestyle skier Karker excited for Dew Tour’s modified superpipe

Rachael Karker has a renewed sense of confidence heading into her second… Continue reading

CBS settled with Dushku over ‘Bull’ star’s sexual comments

LOS ANGELES — CBS reached a $9.5 million confidential settlement last year… Continue reading

Kanye reignites Drake feud on Twitter, alleges threats

LOS ANGELES — Kanye West is not sending Christmas cheer to Drake.… Continue reading

Councillors in Toronto, Ottawa vote to allow retail cannabis stores

TORONTO — Councillors in Toronto have voted to allow retail pot shops… Continue reading

Most Read