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Pope Francis says he will pay his first visit to Holy Land in May

Pope Francis has announced that he will make his first trip to the Holy Land in late May. He said he would visit Israel, the West Bank and Jordan during his stay.

"In the climate of joy typical of this

Christmas period,

I would like to announce that from May 24 to 26, God willing, I will carry out a pilgrimage to the Holy Land," Francis told crowds gathered in the rain in the Vatican's St Peter's Square for the traditional weekly Angelus prayer.

Francis said the date of the announcement - January 5 - was significant, because it marked "the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I of Constantinople" 50 years ago.

The meeting of the two religious leaders in Jerusalem in 1964 led to the nullification of the excommunications of 1054 that caused the Great Schism between the churches of the East and West. The move of goodwill was a significant step towards reconciliation between Rome and Orthodox patriarchates.

East Jerusalem meeting

During his visit, the 77-year-old pontiff said he would hold an "ecumenical meeting with all the representatives of the Christian Churches in Jerusalem" at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in East Jerusalem, venerated by Christians as the site of Jesus' burial. The current Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew, is to be among those attending.

Francis was invited to visit the Holy Land by Israeli President Shimon Peres in April, and by Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas, who met Francis in October.

He has made many appeals for peace in the Middle East, and during his meeting with Abbas called for "a just and lasting solution" to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

His predecessor, Benedict XVI, visited Israel and the Palestinian territories in 2009.

tj/bk (AP, AFP)

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