Abbas urges pilgrims to visit Holy Land for pope's visit

Abbas urges pilgrims to visit Holy Land for pope's visit
A Palestinian man dressed as Santa Claus walks around the mixed Christian and Muslim village of Abud, close to the West Bank city of Ramallah, on December 22, 2013.

BETHLEHEM, Palestinian Territories - Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas urged Christian pilgrims from around the world to visit the Holy Land to mark the visit of Pope Francis, set for 2014, in a Christmas message on Monday.

The pontiff is to make a brief visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories from May 25, his first to the Holy Land, Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot said last week.

"As we begin preparations for the visit of His Holiness Pope Francis next year, we call upon pilgrims from all over the world to come and experience Palestine and our Holy Sites," Abbas said.

The pope's visit "will be a good opportunity for Christians from all over the world to become closer to their sisters and brothers in Palestine."

Abbas added that he hoped the Francis would "spread the message of justice and peace for the Palestinians, as for all peoples of the world."

During the visit, the pope will celebrate a high mass in Bethlehem, the traditional birthplace of Jesus, local media reported.

The trip has yet to be officially confirmed by the Vatican, although the announcement could come in the weeks after Christmas.

But a Vatican spokesman has said officials from the church have made a site visit.

Pope Francis was invited to visit the Holy Land by Israeli President Shimon Peres in April, and by Abbas, who met him on October 17.

In a Christmas message on Wednesday, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Fuad Twal, said the pontiff "cares about the Holy Land and the Middle East."

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