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Pope hopes to strengthen interfaith relations in Jerusalem visit

Aside from meetings with high-ranking religious leaders, the pope will visit several Palestinian refugee camps

Fifty years after the historic embrace between the heads of the Catholic and Christian Orthodox Churches, Pope Francis will become the fourth Pope to visit the Holy Land.

There he will hold his own private meeting with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople at the Apostolic Delegation in Jerusalem, where they will sign a joint declaration. His pilgrimage will include the delivery of three masses and a private visit to the Grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

But in addition to inter-Church relations, the Pope will be extending an olive branch to the other Abrahamic faiths that share the land. Accompanying him on the trip will be Rabbi Abraham Skorka and Muslim leader Omar Abboud, who both hail from the Pope’s native Argentina.

Their packed three-day itinerary, which will take them to the West Bank, Jerusalem, Israel, and Jordan, will include a visit to the Western Wall and a meeting with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem.

To address the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian political conflict, Pope Francis will pay visits to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But the pontiff has limited his meetings with high-ranking officials in favor of common worshippers, something that has marked his papacy and his insistence upon championing the world’s poor. He has included in his agenda visits with disabled youth and displaced people from several different refugee camps.

Discussing the significance and expectations of the trip, Al Jazeera’s Thomas Drayton sat down with Father Tom Reese, a senior analyst at the National Catholic Reporter and Rabbi Arthur Schneier, founder and president of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, who will also be part of the American contingent welcoming the Pope to the Holy Land.

Father Reese said that fighting and killing among different faith groups can only be stopped through education that does not breed hatred. He also mentioned Christians facing persecution in the Holy Land, some of whom trace their lineage back to the beginnings of Christianity.

For his part, Rabbi Schneier stressed the importance of the visit in terms of reconciliation between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people. The Vatican did not formally recognize the State of Israel until 1993, after nearly a century of opposing the formation of an entity that would place the Holy Land under non-Christian custody.

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