OLD CITY, JERUSALEM— Pope Francis is to visit the Holy Land for the first time since he became head of the Roman Catholic Church 14 months ago. In addition to stops in Jordan and Bethlehem, the Pontiff is to visit Jerusalem, one of Christianity’s holiest sites.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in Jerusalem’s Old City. This marks the site where Christians believe Jesus Christ was crucified and rose from the dead 2,000 years ago.
Pilgrims visit from all over the world.
“It’s very emotional for me to see the religious sites," said Derry O’Sullivan from Ireland. "I find it emotional.”
The pope plans to meet the head of the Greek Orthodox Church, Patriarch Bartholomew I. It will mark a similar encounter (between Pope Paul VI and Athenagoras I) 50 years go that launched a dialogue between the two churches after centuries of conflict.
A coordinator of the visit, Vicar David Neuhous, said reconciliation is important not only to Catholics and Orthodox Christians. “This is one of the terrible wounds on the face of the Church. But this is also an opening to bring all Christians together--eastern and western, Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox and the ancient churches of the East--to say it’s enough. The Lord asked very deliberately that we be one,” he said.
Ursula Vega is visiting with two friends from Spain, Lucia Rinon and Carmen Rodriguez. Lucia Rinon is hopeful.
“I think very important steps are being taken. [Popes] Benedict 16 and John Paul 2 made some. But I think Pope Francis is going to advance it more, I have confidence it will happen. The will is there,” Rinon stated.
The pope, during his visit, is to meet the senior Muslim leader, Grand Mufti, and the two chief rabbis of Jerusalem. Father Neuhous said this underscores his deep ties to both communities. “He has a deep, personal commitment to relations with the Jews. And just as intimately, we are also profoundly linked to the Palestinian people. And here is the delicacy, coming into a region where the joy of one is the disaster of the other, or the disaster of one is the joy of the other, the Pope is coming as a profound friend of both,” he said.
He said the pontiff will also visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum and refugees from various conflicts in the region to show his concern for the suffering of all human beings.