- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 5, 2014

Pope Francis announced on Sunday that he would take his first trip as pontiff to the Holy Land this May.

Francis told thousands during his weekly Sunday blessing that he was announcing, “in the climate of joy that is typical of the Christmas season,” the three-day visit to Jerusalem, Bethlehem in the West Bank, and the Jordanian capital, Amman, several media outlets reported.

The visit, taking place May 24-26, comes amid a new U.S. push for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

In his Christmas address last month, Francis singled out the Holy Land for prayers, 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,” the Associated Press reported.

“He’s very welcome in Israel and will be greeted as warmly as his predecessors were,” said Israeli Foreign Ministry Yigal Palmor.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he hoped the pope’s presence would “contribute to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people who aspire for freedom, justice and independence,” the AP reported.