VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI said Saturday that he is going to the Holy Land next week as a pilgrim of peace in a region marked by injustice, mistrust and fear.
Benedict's eight-day pilgrimage, which begins Friday, will take him to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories.
The pope told members of a charitable group in a speech at the Vatican that he was asking for prayers for all the peoples of the Holy Land.
"In just a few days I will have the privilege of visiting the Holy Land. I go as a pilgrim of peace," the pontiff said of his first papal trip to the Middle East.
He said the region, "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" for 60 years.
"This has led to a general atmosphere of mistrust, uncertainty and fear — often pitting neighbor against neighbor, brother against brother," Benedict said.
"As I prepare for this significant journey, I ask in a special way that you join me in prayer for all the peoples of the Holy Land and the region. May they receive the gifts of reconciliation, hope and peace," the pontiff said.
Among Benedict's stops on the trips will be Jerusalem, Nazareth and Bethlehem, the traditional birthplace of Jesus, where the pontiff will celebrate Mass and visit a Palestinian refugee camp.
Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, described the pilgrimage as the "most awaited and perhaps most challenging trip so far" of Benedict's papacy.
"We know how uncertain the political situation is in the area, how fragile are the prospects for pacification," Lombardi said on Vatican Radio. "But the pope sets out all the same, with admirable courage grounded in faith, to speak about reconciliation and peace," Lombardi said.