News / Europe

Pope to Visit Middle East, Meet Orthodox Leader

Pope Francis blesses as he leads the Angelus prayer from the window of the Apostolic palace in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican, Jan. 5, 2014.
Pope Francis blesses as he leads the Angelus prayer from the window of the Apostolic palace in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican, Jan. 5, 2014.
Pope Francis is to visit biblical sites in Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories in May, his first trip to the Christian Holy Land as pontiff and only the fourth by a pope since biblical times.

The May 24-26 trip to Amman, Jerusalem and Bethlehem will mark the 50th anniversary of a historic trip to the region by Pope Paul VI. Pope John Paul II visited in 2000 and Benedict XVI went in 2009.

Apart from its significance for Roman Catholic relations with Jews and Muslims, Francis' trip will hold major importance for relations among Christians because it will include a meeting in Jerusalem with the spiritual head of the world's Orthodox Christians, as well as Anglican and Protestant leaders.

Francis, who has made many appeals for peace in the Middle East since his election in March, announced the trip to thousands of people gathered in St. Peter's Square for his Sunday address. He had been invited to visit by both Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres.

Many key biblical sites are in Israel's Galilee region but Bethlehem, revered as the birthplace of Jesus, is in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, in the Palestinian Territories.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built over the spot where Jesus is said to have been buried, is in Arab East Jerusalem, which Palestinians want as the capital of their future state.

Inter-faith meetings

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators resumed direct peace negotiations 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.

Francis, who defined his trip as a "pilgrimage of prayer", said he would hold an inter-faith meeting in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre together with Bartholomew I, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.

Bartholomew is the spiritual leader of the some 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide.

Francis made the announcement on the exact 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI's meeting in Jerusalem with Bartholomew's predecessor, Athenagoras, the first meeting of the leaders of the Western and Eastern Christianity since they were divided by the Great Schism of 1054.

The meeting between Bartholomew and Francis could also pave the way for an historic encounter between Francis and Kirill, the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, the largest and most influential in world Orthodoxy.

There have been signs of a general warming between the western and eastern branches of Christianity, and Francis fueled hopes of further reconciliation in November when he met Russian President Vladimir Putin, the first Kremlin leader to publicly profess religious faith since the 1917 revolution.

Representatives of Anglican and Protestant churches, which split from Rome in the 16th century, are also expected to attend the Jerusalem meeting in May.

The Vatican did not release any more details of the trip.

You May Like

Video Egyptian Journalists Call for Press Freedom

Despite release of al-Jazeera journalists and others, Egyptian Journalist Syndicate says some remain imprisoned More

Turkey Survey Indicates Traditional Distrusts, Shift to the West

Comprehensive public opinion survey also found a large majority of those interviewed distrust all countries other than country’s neighbor, Azerbaijan More

Pakistan Court Upholds Death Sentence in Blasphemy Killing

Highest court upholds sentence of Mumtaz Qadri convicted of 2011 killing a provincial governor for criticizing country’s controversial blasphemy law More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Making a Minti
October 07, 2015 4:17 AM
While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video Self-Driving Cars Getting Closer

We are at the dawn of the robotic car age and should start getting used to seeing self-driving cars, at least on highways. Car and truck manufacturers are now running a tight race to see who will be the first to hit the street, while some taxicab companies are already planning to upgrade their fleets. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Clinton Seeks to Boost Image Before Upcoming Debate

The five announced Democratic party presidential contenders meet in their first debate next Tuesday in Las Vegas, Nevada. Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton continues to lead the Democratic field, but she is getting a stronger-than-expected challenge from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

Video Music Brings Generations Together

When musicians over the age of 50 headline a rock concert, you expect to see baby boomer fans in the audience. Boomer rock stars have boomer fans. Millennial rock stars have millennial fans. But this isn’t always the case. Take the Lockn’ Music festival which took place in mid-September in rural Arrington, Virginia. Here, Jacquelyn de Phillips discovered two generations of people who are considered quite different in the outside world, spending 4 days together in music-loving harmony.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video South Carolina Reels Under Worst-ever Flooding

South Carolina is reeling from the worst flooding in recorded history that forced residents from their homes and left thousands without drinking water and electricity. Parts of the state, including the capital, Columbia, received about 60 centimeters of rain in just a couple of days. Authorities warn that the end of rain does not mean the end of danger, as it will take days for the water to recede. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs