Pope Francis is embarking on a historic three-day journey to the Middle East to meet with Catholic, Jewish and Muslim leaders.
Francis arrived in Amman, Jordan to a major gathering for the first leg of the trip. In a papal first, the
The move marks the first time an official papal delegation has included members of other faiths, and adds to Francis' budding reputation of bucking the trend. His trip will include visits to the site of Jesus' baptism, the West Bank and Jerusalem. (Via BBC)
And while the Vatican has billed the trip as "strictly religious", The Washington Post explains in a region where faith and politics are intimately intertwined, his every move will carry added significance.
"[On] his arrival Saturday ... Francis [will] began weaving his way through the Holy Land’s modern-day obstacle course, where rival narratives clash and religious animosities linger ... [He] will clearly not be able to deliver every message each side wants to hear."
NPR explains: "the official purpose of the visit is to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic rapprochement between Catholics and Orthodox and to try to restore Christian unity after nearly 1,000 years of estrangement."
The Christian population in the Middle East is declining in number, with the remaining population facing increased persecution in some areas. The Vatican says its mission is to call attention to the issue and raise support for refugees from the Syrian civil war and elsewhere. (Via Sky News, Voice of America)
But many in the Holy Land, and not just Christians, are looking to the pontiff to deliver messages for the oppressed and poor in the Middle East.
He is expected to speak about unity and peace in the volatile region, and has scheduled talks with leaders including the Palestinian Authority's Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Via CBS)
Though don't expect the pope to find a peaceful solution in a couple days that has evaded world leaders for centuries.
The editor-in-chief of Israeli magazine "The Holy Land" told NBC: “They hope that the visit of the pope will call attention to their real situation. But I don’t believe that they are expecting the pope in the matter of the peace process ... They [just] want his smile, his improvisation, his laugh, his prayer, his understanding."
Francis is expected to deliver 13 speeches in just under 48 hours during the jam-packed visit.