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– Twenty-First Century Crusades?
Prediction 12: A visit by cardinals and/or the Pope himself to Jerusalem/Middle
Pope 'to visit Holy Land in May'
Pope Benedict XVI is to make his first visit to the Holy Land in May,
the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem has said.
Fouad Twal said the Pope wished to pray with the people of Jerusalem and
acquire first-hand knowledge of the difficult conditions facing the
Archbishop Twal did not give specific dates for the visit but reports
suggest the pontiff could travel to Jordan, Israel and the West Bank in
He is expected to visit Nazareth and Bethlehem during the trip.
While he is there, Pope Benedict will also meet the Palestinian
Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
The trip will be his first visit to the Middle East since his election
as pontiff in 2005.
Archbishop Twal, the Vatican's most senior representative in the Holy
Land, gave the first official confirmation of the trip during his
He said that Pope Benedict would, just like his immediate predecessors,
be visiting Jerusalem as a pilgrim.
"The supreme pontiff wishes to pray with us and for us, and to acquire
first-hand knowledge of the hard conditions of our region," he added.
In his Christmas message, the archbishop expressed the hope that the
region would see an end to "occupation... injustice... fears, hardships
and [the] internal divisions that beset this land".
The building of Israeli settlements "strangles" the land, the archbishop
He called on the international community to reach a "just and final
peace in the Holy Land", and encouraged Palestinians to seek political
"We also call upon the Palestinians themselves to return to unity in the
context of a recognised Palestinian legal structure, and in this way to
spare the people the continuing and degrading siege," Archbishop Twal
The West Bank and Gaza Strip have been run by separate administrations
since June 2007, when the Islamist militant group Hamas ousted forces
loyal to Mr Abbas and his Fatah movement from the Gaza Strip.
The patriarch, who was born into a Christian bedouin tribe in Jordan,
was appointed to his current post by the Vatican in June.
He replaced Michel Sabbah, who was also known for his passionate appeals
for an end to violence in the Middle East.
Relations between Israel and the Vatican have become tense in recent
months, after news leaked out that the Vatican was considering making
the wartime Pope Pius XII a saint, reports the BBC's David Willey in
Some Israelis accuse Pius of having turned a blind eye to the Holocaust,
although the Vatican denies this.
However the beatification of the sometimes controversial Pope has been
put on hold by Pope Benedict for the time being, as he wants to create a
positive atmosphere for his first visit to the Middle East, says our
Pope Paul VI was the first pontiff to visit Israel, in 1964. The last
Pope, John Paul II, visited in 2000.