Pope Francis’s first visit to the Middle East will include a “political dimension,” the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem said Wednesday, in the wake of the Vatican’s announcement of the papal visit earlier this week.
Fouad Twal, head of the Catholic Church in Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian Territories and Cyprus, said in Jordan on Monday that Francis’s visit would be a “cry for peace” for a war-riven region. According to I.Media, a French Vatican affairs website, Twal said, “Of course the visit will have a political dimension because this dimension is our oxygen.”
Earlier this week, Pope Francis announced long-awaited plans to travel to Israel, the West Bank and Jordan in the spring, but a church representative said the papal visit was aimed at “mainly at spreading and promoting love, cooperation and peace among all inhabitants.”
The visit, scheduled for May 24-26, will be his first trip to the Holy Land since taking office, though he has visited before, and the only foreign trip announced so far for 2014.
Addressing a Vatican crowd gathered in the rain for his weekly Sunday blessing, Francis said he would be visiting Bethlehem and Jerusalem. He would also travel to Amman.
Francis’s trip will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and Orthodox Christian spiritual leader Ecumenical Patriarch Atengora, in Jerusalem.
It will also come about a month after peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians are scheduled to expire.
The trip will mark the new pope’s second visit to the Holy Land. He arrived in Israel in 1973, just as the Yom Kippur War broke out. As The Times of Israel revealed in April, the young Jorge Mario Bergoglio spent six days confined by the conflict to his Jerusalem hotel, where he studied the Letters of Saint Paul to the Corinthians.
Both of the pontiff’s immediate predecessors visited Israel — Benedict XVI in 2009 and John Paul II in 2000.