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 long-standing call for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
The announcement was made Sunday just as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry wrapped up three days of talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in a new U.S. 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 for World Youth Day.
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 favorable outcome to the peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.”
All three governments welcomed the papal visit.