Pope Francis said he would travel to Israel, the Times of Israel wrote on Wednesday. The trip would mark his second to the country that many consider the Holy Land, and his first as pope.
Though the Argentinian pontiff told Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein he would visit the country, he didn’t give a specific date of travel, the news site reported.
Edelstein met with the pope Wednesday, and extended the invitation to Israel that day. “I’ll come! I’ll come!” the pope said.
In July, Pope Francis said he would visit Israel in 2014 to mark the 50th anniversary of when Pope Paul VI traveled to Jerusalem in 1964 -- after the Vatican recognized the State of Israel, according to the Times of Israel. “The government of Israel granted me a unique opportunity to come to Jerusalem,” the pontiff said in July.
Edelstein has asked the pope to use his influence to fight against anti-Semitism. “There is still anti-Semitism in the world,” Edelstein said. “I ask you to use your influence to combat it.”
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The first time the pope went to Israel was in 1973, after the Yom Kippur War. Israeli President Shimon Peres first promptly asked the Argentinian born pontiff to come back after he was elected pope by the conclave in March. Peres sees him as a spiritual leader and his presence in Israel would be appreciated as soon as possible.
“The sooner you visit the better, as in these days a new opportunity is being created for peace and your arrival could contribute significantly to increasing the trust and belief in peace,” Peres said, according to the Times of Israel.
Both of the pope’s direct predecessors, Benedict VXI and John Paul II, visited Israel.
Pope Francis has been making headlines ever since he was elected pope six months ago, and he practically took a dig at the Catholic Church hierarchy recently where he condemned its “Vatican-centric view.”
“I believe in God, not in a Catholic God. There is no Catholic God, there is God and I believe in Jesus Christ, his incarnation,” he said in a widely quoted interview with Italian newspaper La Repubblica.