Pope's trip to Holy Land coming into focus

From Yediot Aharonot yesterday and The Tablet today come some tentative details about Pope Francis's trip to the Holy Land. The Israeli newspaper reports that the short trip's proposed schedule has "dashed hopes" of a Papal Mass in Jerusalem.

Instead, the Pope plans only to celebrate Mass in Bethlehem on Sunday May 25, the day of his arrival, and depart the following day.

The timetable for the visit is loaded: Francis will be in Jordan on Saturday and fly on a helicopter Sunday from Amman to Ben Gurion Airport where he will receive the official State reception. During his visit, the Pope will meet with President Shimon Peres and with various religious leaders in Israel.

The pope will tour Yad Vashem, the Western Wall, and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem. Unlike previous pontiffs, Francis will not visit Christian sites in northern Israel.

To the disappointment of many, Pope Francis will not host Mass for believers within Israel. The plan to host Mass in Jerusalem was cancelled because of the short nature of the visit. However, the pope will host a large Mass in Bethlehem – the headline event of his trip to the holy land.

The Palestinian Authority will be the main beneficiary, as it will gain international prominence. In Israel, officials are still hoping the Vatican will reconsider its decision and have the Pope host a second Mass within the country.

Plans could change, of course. Pope Francis has been known to stray from the script.

But this is important news, especially considering he and his friend Rabbi Skorka have wanted to do something big with this trip together.

Michael Peppard is associate professor of theology at Fordham University and on the staff of its Curran Center for American Catholic Studies. He is the author of The World's Oldest Church and The Son of God in the Roman World, and on Twitter @MichaelPeppard. He is a contributing editor to Commonweal.

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