Pope 'to make first Holy Land trip in May'
Published Thursday 19/12/2013 (updated) 21/12/2013 17:11
Pope Francis pictured in St Peter's Square in the Vatican before his
weekly general audience on April 10, 2013 (AFP/File Alberto Pizzoli)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Pope Francis is to make a brief visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories from May 25, his first to the Holy Land, Israeli newspaper Yedioth Aharonoth reported Thursday.
According to the top-selling daily, which published what it said was a preliminary papal program, Israeli authorities are unhappy with the brevity of the 48-hour visit and the fact that the prelate will not celebrate mass in Israel, but in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Christ's traditional birthplace.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said he could not comment on travel plans.
"It is in the first instance up to the pope himself to decide upon and to announce such a visit," he said.
But he said that officials had made preparatory "contacts and a site visit."
A trip could be announced by the Vatican in the weeks following Christmas, an official said on condition of anonymity.
Yedioth reported that a Vatican delegation made a preparatory visit to Israel this week.
The pope's itinerary was yet to be finalized, the paper said, but he was expected to arrive in Israel from neighboring Jordan on the morning of May 25 and meet Israeli President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and heads of local religious communities.
He would visit Christian and Jewish holy sites and the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem but would not go to the northern Israeli Palestinian city of Nazareth or other sites in the Galilee region.
Yedioth said that the pope was to visit Bethlehem on May 26.
He was invited to visit the Holy Land by Peres in April, and by President Mahmoud Abbas, who met him on Oct. 17.
In a Christmas message delivered Wednesday, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem Fuad Twal said that Pope Francis "cares about the Holy Land and the Middle East."