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Vatican Announces Papal Visit to Holy Land

The Vatican on Thursday officially confirmed that Pope Benedict XVI will carry out a pilgrimage to the Holy Land from May 8 to 15. He will first travel to Jordan and then on to Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth.

This will be Pope Benedict's first visit to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories, and it will be watched carefully. Many are hoping the pontiff will use the opportunity to help ease Roman Catholic relations with Muslims and Jews, which often have been strained since the start of this papacy four years ago.

Pope Benedict is expected to meet with Jordan's King Abdullah, Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian territories President Mahmoud Abbas.

This is the third papal visit in modern times to the land where Jesus lived. Pope Paul VI visited the region in 1964 and John Paul II in 2000.

Pope Benedict will spend the first three days of his trip in Jordan. In Amman, he will visit the King Hussein bin Talal Mosque. It will be the pontiff's second visit to a mosque. In 2006, during a trip to Turkey, he prayed at the famed Blue Mosque in Istanbul.

The pope will also hold Mass in the Amman soccer stadium and visit where Jesus was baptized on the River Jordan and Mount Nebo where Moses once looked out at the Promised Land.

Pope Benedict will travel to Israel on May 11 where he will visit the Yad Vashem Memorial in Jerusalem and meet with organizations devoted to interfaith dialogue. He also is scheduled to visit the Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount in Jerusalem and meet the Grand Mufti. The pontiff will visit the Western Wall and meet Israel's two chief rabbis. He will also celebrate Mass in the Valley of Josaphat.

Then Pope Benedict will go to the Palestinian territories. In Bethlehem, the traditional birthplace of Jesus, he will celebrate Mass in Manger Square and visit the Grotto of the Nativity. He will also visit a Palestinian refugee camp.

The pope will also travel to Nazareth where he will celebrate Mass on Mount Precipice and preside over an evening prayer service with bishops, priests, religious, ecclesial movements and pastoral workers from Galilee.

Pope Benedict is expected to round out his visit by attending an ecumenical meeting at the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and a visit to the Holy Sepulchre and the Armenian patriarchal church of St. James in Jerusalem.