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Pope Francis announces 2014 pilgrimage to Holy Land

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During his weekly blessing on Sunday, Pope Francis announced that he will be making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land this May, which includes visits to Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan.

The pilgrimage is the only 2014 trip planned for the Pope so far and will be the first since Pope Francis visited Rio de Janeiro, Brazil last July for World Youth Day.

A primary purpose of the pilgrimage, which is said to the a pilgrimage of prayer, is to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI meeting with the Patriarch Athenagoras I, which occurred on Jan. 5, 1964. Catholic News Agency notes that the meeting between the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople was a "key moment in Catholic and Orthodox Christian relations."

The meeting led to a 1965 joint declaration aimed at overcoming differences in major churches of Eastern and Western Christianity and eliminating excommunications initiated by leaders of both Churches over 900 years ago.

The trip is set to take place May 24-26 and include a meeting in Jerusalem with His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. Bartholomew invited Francis to travel to the Holy Land last March when he was present at Francis' papal installation in Rome.

Stops on the pilgrimage will also include Bethlehem and Amman, Jordan. It will be the first papal trip to the Holy Land since Pope Benedict visited in 2009. Pope John Paul II went before that in 2000.

Pope Francis announces the trip to the area amid new Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly said were making progress. Francis referenced the talks in his Christmas address less than two weeks ago, saying "Bless the land where you chose to come into the world, and grant a favorable outcome to the peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians."

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