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Pope says Middle East trip will be 'purely religious'
Published Wednesday 21/05/2014 (updated) 22/05/2014 21:51
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Pope Francis addresses worshippers at St Peter's Square in the
Vatican, on May 21, 2014.(AFP/Andreas Solaro)
VATICAN CITY (AFP) -- Pope Francis on Wednesday said his upcoming trip to the Middle East would be entirely devotional, aimed at praying for peace in the region and improving relations with other branches of Christianity.

"It will be a purely religious trip," the Argentine pope told some 50,000 pilgrims at a general audience in St Peter's Square ahead of three-day trip to Israel, Jordan and the occupied Palestinian Territories starting on Saturday.

Francis said the main reasons for the trip -- billed a "pilgrimage of prayer" by the Vatican -- were to meet with the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I and "to pray for peace in that land, which has suffered so much".

The visit kicks off on Saturday when Francis flies to Amman and meets Syrian refugees. He will then travel on to Bethlehem, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, wrapping up the visit on Monday with a mass in the place where Christians believe Jesus had the last supper with his disciples.

Francis will meet with all the main Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian leaders, but only briefly.

There has also been opposition from ultra-Orthodox Jews over perceived Vatican designs on holy sites in Jerusalem.

Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka, an old friend of Francis who will be traveling with him, said the pontiff would try to avoid political pitfalls in the sensitive region by dividing his visits equally between Jewish Israeli sites and Muslim or Christian landmarks in Palestinian territory.

"He will try to be balanced," Skorka told journalists in Jerusalem.

"He's going to make meaningful contact and interaction with the Palestinian people. But when he comes to Israel, I'm not sure whether the previous Popes went to Mount Herzl (the site of Israel's Holocaust memorial) to lay flowers there."

Pope Francis is to pray at the Western Wall, the site of the first and second Jewish temples, and to visit Israel's national cemetery on Mount Herzl before going on to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.

Skorka condemned opposition by ultra-Orthodox Jews to the Pope's visit.

"I'm totally against them (demonstrations against the visit). This is a visit by someone who is seeking a road to peace and dialogue and he should be received with open arms," Skorka said.

"We cannot remain and live in a vicious circle of hate."

Hundreds gathered last week near the reputed scene of Jesus's last supper in Jerusalem, demanding that Israel keep sovereignty over the site where Pope Francis will celebrate mass.

Jews revere the site as the tomb of King David, which is on the ground floor of the same building. The site is also important for Muslims.

It is currently the subject of negotiations between Israel and the Vatican, which hopes to recover the site, but no official agreement has been announced.
1 ) JoeFattal / USA
21/05/2014 20:07
Religiously speaking he will not bring back thousands of Christians that left Palestine due to Israel occupation, and obviously he will not stop the Jewish Extremists to continue their hate war against Christians and Muslims, they control by outside groups not necessarly in Israel. So what is his role and visit has to do with anything religously, none. Politicaly, none. He should have prayed for them in the Vatican.

2 ) Mel / USA
21/05/2014 20:14
No disrespect Francis,but we all know there's nothing"purely religious"about any of the monotheistic religions.Control of power,Absolutism & politics are embedded in the roots of any religion.The Vatican itself is a politically entity/state,with its own passport!Israel is an illegal Occupying ethno(Jewish passport)theocracy & as 'spiritual'to Palestinian Muslims & Christians as the Spanish Inquisition,or Puritans,were to"others".Absolutist Zionism has only contempt for peace and grace!

3 ) Mel / USA
21/05/2014 20:33
Cont: And when at the Western Wall Francis,remember the 650 Palestinian Muslim &Christian families ethnically "cleansed"from the Old City Moroccan Quarter,behind the wall(where all faiths lived side-by side before)on June 10th 1967.And at the Church of Nativity recall the Israeli Zionist occupation there too,almost destroying it totally.Let's hope the"peaceful"graffiti on Church of Dormition saying,"Jesus,son of a bitch,price tag"isn't there at the Last Supper site,still,too?

4 ) Adam Neira / The Holy Land
21/05/2014 20:59
Blessings to Pope Francis and his assistants, including Abraham Skorka and Omar Abboud, for their upcoming trip. وَأَنفِقُوا? فِى سَبِيلِ ?للَّهِ وَلَا تُلْقُوا? بِأَيْدِيكُمْ إِلَى ?لتَّهْلُكَةِ ? وَأَحْسِنُو?ا? ? إِنَّ ?للَّهَ يُحِبُّ ?لْمُحْسِنِينَ - Surat Al-Baqarah 2:195 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” - Matthew 5:9 ???? ?????, ????????-????; ???????? ??????? ????????? - Psalms 34:14

5 ) Missionary Chuma Nnabuihe / Nigeria
21/05/2014 22:46
The Israeli / Palestinian crisis is more of a religious one and as the head of every religion on earth, he is the only one who can stop the horrible religious war that will erupt when Israel pulls down Al aqsa mosque. However the world will come to know the beast in him when Israel will reject his pagan version of christianity upon the completion of the temple, forcing down the great tribulation.

6 ) red / USA
22/05/2014 00:32
"purely religious' i.e. he's above the battle
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