VATICAN CITY (AFP) - Pope Francis said Sunday he will make his first trip to the Holy Land, visiting Amman, Bethlehem and Jerusalem from May 24 to 26.
"In the climate of joy typical of this Christmas period, I would like to announce that from May 24 to 26, God willing, I will carry out a pilgrimage to the Holy Land," Francis told crowds gathered in St Peter's Square for the traditional Angelus prayer.
Francis said the date of the announcement -- January 5 -- was significant because it "commemorates the historic meeting between pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I of Constantinople", 50 years ago.
Their meeting in 1964 in Jerusalem led to the rescinding of the excommunications of 1054 that caused the Great Schism between the churches of the East and West.
During the visit, the pontiff said he would hold an "ecumenical meeting with all the representatives of the Christian Churches in Jerusalem" at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, venerated as the place where Jesus was buried.
Francis was invited to visit the Holy Land by Israeli President Shimon Peres in April, and by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, who met him in October, saying he would "walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.”
During the pope's meeting with Abbas, Francis called for "a just and lasting solution" to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
The pontiff's visit had been anticipated by the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot, which said Francis would celebrate a high mass in Bethlehem, the traditional birthplace of Jesus.