Pope Francis said Monday that he might travel to Israel next year to mark the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s visit to Jerusalem in 1964, before the Vatican recognized the State of Israel.
“The government of Israel granted me a unique opportunity to come to Jerusalem,” Francis said.
He said he is weighing invitations from Sri Lanka and the Philippines as well.
The Argentinian-born pontiff made the comments on his papal aircraft flying back to the Vatican from Brazil after his first trip abroad since his election in March. He told the assembled reporters that Israel invited him to visit to mark the anniversary, and if he does make the trip, he would visit the Palestinian Authority as well.
It would be Francis’s second visit to the Holy Land. He visited in 1973, arriving just as the Yom Kippur War broke out.
President Shimon Peres first invited Francis to Israel immediately after his election, calling on the pope to visit as a spiritual, not a political, leader. “The sooner you visit the better, as in these days a new opportunity is being created for peace and your arrival could contribute significantly to increasing the trust and belief in peace,” Peres said.
Francis would try to find time to come to Israel “in the near future,” the President’s Office said in a statement.
Both of the pontiff’s immediate predecessors visited Israel — Benedict XVI in 2009 and John Paul II in 2000.