Pope Francis aims to visit Israel in March 2014, a rabbi closely affiliated with the leader of the Catholic world said Sunday.
Abraham Skorka, an Argentinean rabbi who has written a number of theological papers and books with the pope, told Channel 2 news that Francis has already made plans to visit Jerusalem and other major Israeli cities, as well as the West Bank.
Skorka said that Pope Francis’s “lifelong dream” was to visit the Holy Land and “to embrace” with the rabbi in front of the Western Wall. This even though he has been to Israel before, in 1973.
Last week, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) met Pope Francis in the Vatican, and invited him to Israel to the Knesset.
Francis replied emphatically, “I’ll come! I’ll come!”
Edelstein also asked the pope to help combat anti-Semitism: “There is still anti-Semitism in the world; I ask you to use your influence to combat it.”
Pope Francis’s planned visit will mark the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s visit to Jerusalem in 1964, which took place before the Vatican recognized the State of Israel.
The future trip would mark Francis’s second visit to the Holy Land. He arrived here in 1973, just as the Yom Kippur War broke out. As The Times of Israel revealed in April, Jorge Mario Bergoglio (as he was then) spent six days confined to his Jerusalem hotel, studying the Letters of Saint Paul to the Corinthians.
President Shimon Peres first invited Francis to Israel immediately after his election, calling on him to visit as a spiritual — not a political — leader.
“The sooner you visit, the better; 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 July.
Both of the pontiff’s immediate predecessors visited Israel — Benedict XVI in 2009, and John Paul II in 2000.