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Pope Francis plans to visit Israel early next year

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
October 18th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Previous to Pope Francis meeting at the Vatican with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli President Shimon Peres had extended an invitation to the pope to visit the Holy Land. Pope Francis plans to visit Israel as soon as possible as next year, according to the Vatican. The visit would be a landmark for a pontiff who has been championed by the Jewish community for his strong condemnation of anti-Semitism.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Following a similar invitation from Abbas fro the pope to visit Palestine, "we can now start thinking in a more concrete way regarding the planning of the visit," Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said, adding that it could take place in 2014.

The visits would follow in the footsteps of Pope Francis' predecessors, Benedict XVI and John Paul II, who sought to promote Christian reconciliation with Judaism. A reuniting of the two faiths was emphasized in the key 1962-65 Second Vatican Council which sought to dispel any vestiges of centuries-old anti-Semitism within the church.

Pope Francis has made only one overseas trip since his appointment. "We can see the steady and ongoing commitment of the Catholic Church on improving Catholic-Jewish relations," Chad Pecknold, assistant professor of theology at The Catholic University of America in Washington DC said.

Pope Francis has sought outreach to the Jewish community on several fronts. He met with members of Rome's Jewish community last week to mark the 70th anniversary of the start of deportations of Italian Jews from Rome to Nazi concentration camps during the German occupation of Italy. More than 1,000 Roman Jews were deported On October 16, 1943. Only 16 returned home.

"For many centuries ... the Jewish community and the Church of Rome have lived in our city, with a history—as we well know—that was often traversed by misunderstandings and even true grievances," Pope Francis said at the meeting.

The Vatican also banned churches in Rome from holding a funeral for Erich Priebke, a former German commander who played a role in a wartime massacre of Italian partisans and civilians. Priebke's arrest and life sentence was an important milestone for Rome's 2,000-year old Roman Jewish community.

"It's a contradiction for a Christian to be anti-Semitic: His roots are Jewish," the pope said last week.

The pope's visit to the Holy Land would also forward his appeal for peace in the Middle East.

"Pope Francis has already been very clear about his priority for the poor, the marginalized, the suffering and the oppressed of the world," Scott Appleby, director of the University of Notre Dame's Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies says. "His focus [in the trip to the Holy Land] will be on the human toll of the conflict."

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