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Vatican officially announces Pope’s Mideast trip

ROME (JTA) — The Vatican officially announced that Pope Benedict XVI will visit Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.

Describing the May 8-15 trip as a "pilgrimage to the Holy Land," the announcement said the pope would visit Amman, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth.

Preparations have been ongoing for several months, and the pope himself confirmed to a visiting American Jewish delegation last month that he would be making the journey. But Sunday’s announcement was the first official confirmation of the dates and places the pontiff will visit.

During his Sunday noon blessing at St. Peter’s Basilica, Benedict personally announced the trip. He said was making the pilgrimage "to ask the Lord, in visiting the places sanctified by his early passage, for the precious gift of unity and peace for the Middle East and all of humanity."

It will be the first papal trip to the Holy Land since Pope John Paul II’s landmark pilgrimage in 2000.

Israeli President Shimon Peres welcomed the pope’s announcement Sunday.

"I am delighted that His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI has responded positively and accepted my invitation to visit the Holy Land," Peres said. "The pope will be a most honored guest, welcomed and respected by people from all walks of life. His visit will be a moving and important event bringing the spirit of peace and hope. Welcome to Israel."

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