Pope Francis said he will make his first trip to the Holy Land, visiting Amman, Bethlehem and Jerusalem over two days from May 24.
The pontiff made the announcement on Sunday while addressing crowds gathered in St Peter’s Square for the traditional Angelus prayer.
“In the climate of joy typical of this Christmas period, I would like to announce that from May 24 to 26, God willing, I will carry out a pilgrimage to the Holy Land,” he said.
Francis said the date of the announcement, January 5, was significant because it “commemorates the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I of Constantinople,” that happened 50 years ago.
Their meeting in 1964 in Jerusalem led to the rescinding of the excommunications of 1054 that caused the Great Schism between the churches of the East and West.
During the visit, the Pope Francis said he would hold an “ecumenical meeting with all the representatives of the Christian Churches in Jerusalem” at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in East Jerusalem, venerated as the place where Jesus was buried.
Francis was invited to visit the Holy Land by Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who said he would “walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.”
The 77-year-old pontiff has made many appeals for peace in the Middle East. During his meeting with Abbas, he called for “a just and lasting solution” to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot has reported Francis will celebrate a high mass in Bethlehem.
The daily said Israeli authorities were unhappy with the brevity of the visit and the fact that the prelate will not celebrate mass in Israel, but in the West Bank, in the Palestinian territories.
Francis made no mention of plans to hold a mass in Bethlehem in his Sunday announcement.
Unconfirmed information from Roman Catholic sources in the Holy Land had earlier indicated a possible papal visit to a refugee camp for Syrians in Jordan.
Israel and the Vatican first established full diplomatic relations in 1993, but have been engaged in years of thorny diplomatic negotiations over property rights and tax exemptions for the Catholic Church.
The Vatican used the term “State of Palestine” for the first time in January 2013.