Details are emerging of Pope Benedict XVI’s planned visit to the Holy Land, which now appears set for May 8-15, according to the German Bild newspaper.
Sources familiar with the papal trip told the paper that the visit will begin in Jordan and include pilgrimages to Nazareth and Bethlehem.
After arriving in Amman, the Pope is expected to make a pilgrimage to Mount Nebo, Jordan’s holiest shrine. Mt. Nebo is the place where the Old Testament prophet Moses first saw the Promised Land and where he was buried.
In the afternoon of May 11, Benedict XVI will fly to Tel Aviv where he will meet Israeli political leaders before making pilgrimages to Jerusalem, Nazareth and Bethlehem.
His visit to Bethlehem, under the control of the Palestinian Authority, will be the most sensitive leg of the trip. It’s not yet clear whether he will meet any representatives of the terrorist group Hamas who control the Gaza Strip but also enjoy autonomy in the West Bank. Although the number of Christians in the region has fallen dramatically, many still live in the Palestinian Territories.
The Pope will fly back to Rome May 15 on a chartered airline belonging to the host nation.
The dates of the Benedict XVI’s visit have been chosen carefully to avoid the mistake that overshadowed Pope John Paul II’s visit to the Holy Land in 2000. John Paul upset devout Jews by forcing some of them to work to guarantee his safety during the Sabbath. If the dates are correct, Benedict will arrive in Israel on a Monday, and will have left the country shortly before the Sabbath begins.
The Vatican confirmed a visit is being planned last month but would give no further details. A Vatican delegation visited the region last week to lay the groundwork for the trip. It is thought that the Pope wants the visit to take place as soon as possible to put a “freeze” on recent disputes between the Catholic Church and Israeli and Jewish leaders.
However, these controversies, such as strongly contested allegations that Pope Pius XII did too little to save Jews during the Second World War, are not being discussed at a diplomatic level.
“It’s not on the bilateral agenda,” Israeli Ambassador to the Holy See, Mordechay Lewy, tells Newsmax. “I must be very clear about this. This is an internal matter of the church and we are not interfering in it. It’s not in the discussions at all.”
Official confirmation of the papal tour is expected before Christmas, according to Vatican sources.
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