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Pope Francis visit to Israel is on despite diplomats’ strike

(JTA) – Pope Francis is going ahead with his visit to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority in May, despite a strike by Israeli diplomats.

The Vatican on Thursday released the program for the papal trip, scheduled for May 24-26.

The pope will have an intensive series of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders as well as Jewish, Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim religious leaders. He also will celebrate religious services and make public speeches.

The general strike called Sunday by employees of Israel’s Foreign Ministry has shut down the country’s 103 embassies, consulates and diplomatic missions around the world.

Francis will fly to Amman, Jordan, on May 24, and meet with King Abdullah II and Queen Rania, address Jordanian authorities, celebrate Mass in a stadium and meet with “refugees and young disabled people.”

The pope will leave Jordan the next day and fly by helicopter to Bethlehem for a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whom the Vatican statement referred to as “the President of the State of Palestine.” Francis will address Palestinian authorities and celebrate Mass in Manger Square, as well as  meet with children in three refugee camps.

Francis will then fly by helicopter to Jerusalem, where he will meet with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople and sign a joint declaration. That evening, in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, an ecumenical meeting will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the meeting in Jerusalem between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras in 1964.

On May 26, Francis will visit the grand mufti of Jerusalem and give an address. Then he will visit the Western Wall and lay a wreath at Mount Herzl. He also will visit and speak at Yad Vashem before meeting Israel’s two chief rabbis at the Heichal Shlomo Centre next to the Great Synagogue of Jerusalem.

Later the pope will meet separately with Israeli President Simon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He will depart for Rome that evening, following other meetings and a Mass with priests and other religious leaders.

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