ROME – Pope Francis plans to visit Israel as soon as next year, the Vatican said, in what could be a landmark visit for a pontiff who has already won plaudits from the Jewish community for his strong condemnation of anti-Semitism.
On Thursday, the pope also met at the Vatican with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who invited him to visit Palestine as well. Israeli President Shimon Peres had already extended an invitation to the pope to visit the Holy Land shortly after the pontiff's election in March.
Following the invitation from Mr. Abbas, "we can now start thinking in a more concrete way regarding the planning of the visit," said Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi, adding that it could take place in 2014.
A papal trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories would follow in the footsteps of Pope Francis's predecessors, Benedict XVI and John Paul II. Both sought to promote Christian reconciliation with Judaism as emphasized in the key 1962-65 Second Vatican Council and do away with any vestiges of anti-Semitism after centuries of ambiguity within the church.