Pope Francis officially announced on Sunday that he will visit Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority in May, reports Reuters.
The May 24-26 trip to Amman, Jerusalem and Bethlehem will mark the 50th anniversary of a landmark trip there by Pope Paul VI in 1964, the first by a pope in modern times. Pope John Paul II visited in 2000 and Benedict XVI made a visit to the region in 2009.
Francis, who has made many appeals for peace in the Middle East since his election in March, announced the trip to thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square for his Sunday address.
He has been invited by both Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres.
Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonotreported about the Pope’s planned trip in mid-December, noting that a Vatican delegation had made a preparatory visit to Israel.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu visited Rome last month and met with the Pope, their first meeting since Francis took his post in March.
Netanyahu's office had previously said the premier would be meeting with Francis in October, when Netanyahu was in Rome, but a diplomatic source then indicated that no such meeting will be taking place, explaining that audiences with the Pope must be arranged sufficiently in advance.
The visit comes as Israeli and PA negotiators continue direct peace negotiations which resumed in late July after three years of stalemate. The Vatican has urged both sides to make “courageous and determined” decisions to move closer to peace, with the help of the international community.