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The Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot said yesterday [Thursday] that Pope Francis would visit the Holy Land on 25 May.
The Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi SJ said he could not comment on the travel plans. “It is in the first instance up to the Pope himself to decide upon and to announce such a visit,” he said.
However, the newspaper reported that a Vatican delegation made a preparatory visit to Israel this week, and that the Pope was expected to arrive in Israel from neighbouring Jordan on the morning of 25 May and meet Israeli President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and heads of local religious communities. He would visit Christian and Jewish holy sites and the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial centre in Jerusalem, but would not go to Nazareth or other sites in the Galilee region. Yediot said that the Pope was to visit Bethlehem in the Palestinian territories on 26 May, where he would celebrate Mass.
In a Christmas letter of 18 December the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal referred to "the Pope’s visit to the Holy Land planned for next May, first in Jordan then in Israel/Palestine".
Pope Francis was invited to visit the Holy Land by Mr Peres in April, and by the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who met him on 17 October.
A trip could be announced by the Vatican in the weeks following Christmas, an official said on condition of anonymity.
According to the daily newspaper, Israeli authorities are unhappy with the brevity of the 48-hour visit and the fact that the Pope will not celebrate Mass in Israel, but in Bethlehem.