ROME (JTA) — Pope Benedict XVI said he is traveling to the Middle East this week as "a pilgrim of peace" and invoked a special blessing on the Palestinians.
Benedict leaves May 8 for a weeklong trip to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
"I ask you all to join me in praying for the afflicted peoples of that region," he told crowds in St. Peter’s Square during his weekly Sunday blessing.
"In a special way I ask that you remember the Palestinian people who have endured great hardship and suffering. May the Lord bless them and all those who live in the Holy Land with the gifts of unity and peace."
The pope said that on his trip he wanted to bear witness to the commitment of the Catholic Church in fostering dialogue and reconciliation aimed at achieving a stable and lasting peace based on "justice and reciprocal respect."
He said he also wants to back interfaith relations and to demonstrate his support for "Christians in the Holy Land, who must confront many difficulties on a daily basis."
On Saturday, the chief Vatican spokesman called the upcoming trip the "most awaited and perhaps most challenging trip so far" of Benedict’s papacy.
"We know how uncertain the political situation is in the area, how fragile are the prospects for pacification," the spokesman said on Vatican Radio.
He praised the pope’s "admirable courage grounded in faith" to make the trip and "speak about reconciliation and peace."