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Pope announces first Mideast tour as pontiff

Latest update : 2009-05-03

Pope Benedict XVI is set to start a weeklong visit to Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian territories next week, his first since becoming pope in 2005. The pontiff said he was making the trip as a “pilgrim of peace” in a region marked by mistrust.

AFP - Pope Benedict XVI said Saturday he was going to the Middle East next week as a pilgrim of peace in a region plagued by violence and injustice, mistrust, uncertainty and fear.
  
On his first trip to the region where Jesus Christ lived since becoming pope in 2005, he will spend a week visiting Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories.
  
"In just a few days I will have the privilege of visiting the Holy Land," he told members of the Papal Foundation in Rome Saturday.
  
"I go as a pilgrim of peace."
  
He added, "for more than 60 years, this region -- the land of our Lord's birth, death and resurrection, a sacred place for the world's three great monotheistic religions -- has been plagued by violence and injustice.
  
"This has led to a general atmosphere of mistrust, uncertainty and fear -- often pitting neighbour against neighbour, brother against brother."
  
The pope said that as he prepared for this "significant journey" he prayed for "all the peoples of the Holy Land and the region" to "receive the gifts of  reconciliation, hope and peace."
  
The Vatican's chief spokesman, Federico Lombardi, said meanwhile that the pope wanted to boost the faltering peace process in the Middle East during his visit.
  
"We all know how uncertain the political situation is in the region and how fragile the prospects for peace," he told Radio Vatican.
  
"But the pope is going anyway, with admirable courage based on faith, to speak of reconciliation and peace."
  
The Papal Foundation raises funds for the charitable work of the Roman Catholic Church for the sick and victims of natural disasters, as well as reconstructing destroyed churches, building seminaries and assisting retired priests.
  
The pope is due to visit Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories between May 8 and 15, with a visit to Bethlehem scheduled for May 13.

Date created : 2009-05-03

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