Pope Francis may be visiting the Holy Land as soon as early as next year, reports the Vatican. He has received official invitations from Israel and Palestine, and Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said the trip may take place in 2014, according to the Wall Street Journal.
He met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday, who formally invited the pontiff to visit. His predecessors Benedict XVI and John Paul II both visited the holy land, seeking 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," reports the Wall Street Journal.
Pope Francis has already won praise from the Jewish community for his strong condemnations of anti-Semitism. He said in June that "due to our common roots" a "Christian cannot be anti-Semitic!" He also said that “to be a good Christian it is necessary to understand Jewish history and traditions" in September when he wished Jews around the world a sweet and peaceful new year.
The visit would also be an opportunity to promote peace in the Middle East. During his Thursday meeting with Abbas, the two leaders discussed the reinstatement of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians in the "hope that this process may bear fruit and enable a just and lasting solution to be found to the conflict," the Vatican stated.
The Pope also shared his concern for Christians in the region, and the Vatican reported, "Finally, mention was made of the situation faced by Christian communities in the Palestinian Territories, and in the Middle East in general, highlighting the significant contribution they offer to the common good of society."
Pope Francis has been an outspoken advocate for peace, saying in an address on October 9th, "I ask you to pray for peace in the Middle East: in Syria, in Iraq, in Egypt, in Lebanon and in the Holy Land, where the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, was born. Pray that the light of Christ reaches all hearts and all places, unto the ends of the earth."
Pope Francis presented Abbas with a pen as a gift, which prompted him to tell the Pontiff, "I hope to use this pen to sign the peace treaty with Israel."
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misidentified Mahmoud Abbas as the Palestinian Prime Minister. He is in fact the President of the Palestinian National Authority.