Pope Francis announced Sunday that His Holiness will make visits to Israel, Jordan and the West Bank in 2014. Pope Francis made the announcement from St Peter’s Square, Vatican City, after reciting the Sunday Angelus.The Pope stated that the aim of the trip is to improve relations between Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians.
The 2014 visits to Israel, Jordan and the West Bank are also being viewed as part of Pope Francis’ movement toward greater harmony with Jewish and Muslim people.This trip is the only confirmed trip for the Pope in 2014.
Pope Francis spoke to people in the Holy Land in his Christmas address: “Bless the land where you chose to come into the world, and grant a favorable outcome to the peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians,” referring to the three days of talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders concluded Sunday, in which U.S. diplomat John Kerry participated.
The Catholic Church announced that the purpose of the visit was aimed “mainly at spreading and promoting love, cooperation and peace among all inhabitants.”
While the Pope visits Jordan, His Holiness will meet with King Abdullah and discuss relations between the Vatican and Jordan. The two leaders are also expected to discuss fraternity and dialogue between Christians and Muslims.
Among the events included in the planned trip to the Holy Land is an ecumenical service the pope will participate in with various church representatives, including Bartholomew, the current patriarch of Constantinople. The Ecumenical service will be held at the Holy Sepulchre Church in Jerusalem. Bartholomew was the first ecumenical leader to travel to the Vatican City for a papal installation. Bartholomew did so last March to attend Pope Francis’ inaugural Mass.
Four popes have visited Israel, beginning with John Paul II in 1993. Israel had not been officially recognized by the Holy See until that time. All three governments hosting the Pope on his upcoming trip welcomed the visit.
The announcement that the Pope would visit Israel was received positively by the people of Israel and the Israeli Foreign Ministry stated that Pope Francis was very welcome in Israel and would be as warmly greeted as previous Popes. Wafa, the Palestinian news agency, printed that President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the Pope’s visit. The Royal Palace, Jordan, stated that Pope Francis’ visit would be seen as an important step towards brotherhood and forgiveness between Christians and Muslims.
The date of the trip is significant. 2014 is the 50th anniversary of the January 5, 1964, meeting between Pope Paul VI and Anthenagoras, the Orthodox Christian Patriarch in office at that time. The 1964 meeting took place in Jerusalem. The meeting is seen by some as a step towards reconciliation of the Great Schism between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.
The Great Schism between the churches is historically marked by the 1054 excommunications that succeeded the Eastern Church’s 1053 decision to close all Latin Churches in Constantinople, which itself was a reaction against other disagreements between the two churches.
The 1964 meeting did not end the Schism, but showed that the two churches were willing to reconcile. This willingness was seen by some church leaders as heresy, however, and so the issue remains controversial.
Pope Francis’ 2014 visits in the Holy Land are scheduled for May 24-26, when His Holiness will visit Amman in Jordan; Bethlehem and Jerusalem in Israel; and the West Bank.
By Day Blakely Donaldson