Pope Francis will visit Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority between May 24 and May 26, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, announced Thursday afternoon.
Israel will be the last stop on the visit of the pontiff, who is set to arrive in Jerusalem on the afternoon of May 25 and will visit the Western Wall on the morning of May 26.
Concerns have been raised over the viability of the visit to Israel in light of the strike by Foreign Ministry employees, although Twal stated that both the Prime Minister’s Office and the Foreign Ministry have given assurances that the strike will not affect it.
According to the Vatican and the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the principal purpose of the trip is a meeting between Pope Francis and Bartholomew I, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians.
The meeting, which is to take place in Jerusalem on May 25, will commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Athenagoras in Jerusalem.
During his time in Israel, the pontiff is also scheduled to visit the Temple Mount and Yad Vashem. He is set to meet with President Shimon Peres at the president’s residence, hold a private audience with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and meet with Chief Rabbis David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef.
On the first leg of his tour, Pope Francis will fly to Amman, where he will meet with King Abdullah II and Queen Rania.
He will give a mass and an address at the 25,000-seat Amman International Stadium and will visit a baptismal site on the River Jordan.
The pontiff is also to meet with refugees from the ongoing civil war in Syria, which has greatly concerned him.
Father David Neuhaus, the patriarchal vicar for the Hebrew-speaking Catholic communities, told The Jerusalem Post that the violence and loss of life in Syria is of extreme concern to Pope Francis, who is active in seeking international help to alleviate the situation.
Neuhaus noted the heavy involvement of Catholic agencies in Lebanon and Jordan, which are providing assistance for refugees from the conflict.
On May 25, Pope Francis will fly by helicopter to Bethlehem, where he will meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and give a mass in Manger Square, as well as visit the Church of the Nativity.
The pope’s schedule includes a visit to the Palestinian refugee towns of Dehaishe, Aida, and Beit Jibrin.
Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, Twal emphasized the importance of the meeting between Francis and Bartholomew, who have already met once before since the pope was appointed in Rome.
The purpose of the meeting in Jerusalem is to generate greater unity between the Catholic and Orthodox churches, the two major branches of Christianity.
“Pope Francis is coming to visit three political realities – Jordan, Palestine, and Israel,” said Twal in his address.
“In each place he will meet with the heads of state, encouraging one and all in fair government for the benefit of all citizens and to work together to overcome all obstacles that stand in the way of the welfare of all and the prosperity of all,” the Patriach continued.
He said that the Church seeks to “work together to bring justice and peace, pardon and reconciliation to our broken land.”