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Francis goes to Holy Land

4 years ago2.3K views

Three days, three destinations: Pope Francis’s Holy Land tour, his first, starts this Saturday. He is going to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories. And he’s bringing an imam and a rabbi with him, friends from his native Argentina.

On his interfaith journey, he will meet heads of state as well as religious leaders.

But, true to form (since the start of his pontificate), he’ll ride in a normal car.

Palestinian Minister of Tourism Rula Maayah said: “The presence of his Holiness the Pope in Palestine, in an unarmoured vehicle without any protective glass is, of course, a message to the whole world that Palestine is secure and that the Pope feels safe among Palestinians in Bethlehem. He will meet them in the streets, and at mass.”

On Sunday morning, he will fly from Amman to the West Bank for mass in Manger Square in the traditional birthplace of Christ, and next visit refugee camps Deheisheh, Aida, and Beit Jibrin, to meet the children. But his presence is also to give solace to Christians in the troubled region — whose decline in numbers has accelerated with the region’s problems.

A pilgrim who said he has travelled 60,000 kilometres, through 22 countries to reach Jerusalem, and who will offer Francis a record of his experiences along the way, said: “My foremost hope is that he will galvanise all Christians to guard their faith and keep their identity and not leave their land here. Because they are from here. They have their place here.”

On Monday, Francis will be at the Western Wall and Yad Vashem — Israel’s official memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust — and at a key Islamic site in Jerusalem.

Israel has banned several Jewish right-wing activists from certain areas, over security concerns, yet the Vatican has said it is not worried.

Catholic priest Eamon Kelly said: “We have three religions in Jerusalem, that have major historical roots, and that we learn to live together here is a very big challenge. So Pope Francis is coming like a father.”

He’ll be received by the Grand Mufti and the two Chief Rabbis, and, with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, celebrate the 50th anniversary of a historic trip to the cradle of Christianity by Pope Paul VI.

In Muslim Jordan, which guarantees religious freedom for its less than three percent Christian population, King Abdullah has provided a stadium for mass. Francis there is expected to pay special attention to the refugees who have flooded in from Iraq and Syria.

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