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Pope Francis Pursues Religious Reconciliation in the Holy Land

In May 2014, Pope Francis undertook a three-day visit to the Middle East, during which he met with both Israeli and Palestinian political leaders. His visit included leading several masses and providing first communion for a group of Jordanian children. The Pope engaged in a symbolic first by inviting two old friends from his home, Argentina, to travel with him: Rabbi Abraham Skorka, and Sheik Omar Abboud, both of whom were conversation and reconciliation partners with the Pope when he was Cardinal Bergoglio, living in Buenos Aires. Pope Francis also met with Orthodox Christianity's Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I, on the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI's groundbreaking 1964 meeting with then-Patriarch Athenagorus. That meeting began an ongoing effort to bridge the 1,000-year-old gap between the Orthodox and Roman churches.

Religion News Service, a sister site of Religion Newswriters Association, a member organization that promotes quality religious news reporting, prepared an article identifying some of the issues surrounding the Pope's visit that included acknowledging areas of contention and conflict, and Pope Francis' hope to begin a new Middle East peace and reconciliation dialog around "sharing dreams."

In related articles anticipating the Pope's visit to the Middle East, RNS explored the anger felt by ultra-Orthodox Jews over the Israeli government approving  the Pope's controversial daily mass in the Upper Room (Cenacle), believed by Jews to sit directly above David's Tomb and by Christians to be the room where Jesus celebrated his Last Supper; and, lessons from Jordan on inter-religious hospitality and mutual respect. Pope Francis will celebrate mass at a stadium near the point on the Jordan River where it is believed Jesus was baptized. However, the article points out, although the state protects the roughly 20,000 Christians who live in the country, and welcome Christian tourists to Christian holy sites, Christians are still second class citizens, "there are reportedly no Jews in Jordan and despite a formal treaty with Israel, the average Jordanian is likely to view Israel as hostile."

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