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9 March 2009

During his traditional Sunday Mass in St. Peter's Square (8.3.09) , His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI formally announced his first papal visit to the Holy Land, at the invitation of the President of Israel Mr. Shimon Peres: "From 8-15 May, I will make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to ask the Lord, visiting the places sanctified by his passage on the earth, for his precious blessing of unity and peace for the Middle East and for all of mankind. I am counting on the spiritual support of all of you, and may God accompany me, support me, and bless with his Grace all those who I meet on my way."

The Pope's Holy Land Pilgrimage will include a visit to Jordan, followed on 11-15 May by a visit to Israel and the holy sites in Jerusalem, Nazareth and Bethlehem. The Pope will also meet with religious leaders during his five day visit. The highlight of the Pope's visit to Israel will be Holy Mass at the Kidron Valley in Jerusalem, where thousands are expected to participate on the afternoon of 12 May. The Pope will also visit Yad Vashem (11 May) and the Temple Mount, Western Wall, Mount Zion, the Cenacle and Gethsemane Church on 12 May. After a visit to Bethlehem and Mass at Manger Square, (13 May), the Pope will deliver another Mass in Nazareth at Mount Precipice and pray at the Church of the Annunciation (14 May).

Tourism Minister Ruhama Avraham-Balila: "The Pope's visit to the Holy Land is an important and very significant visit that represents a strategic anchor for pilgrimage to Israel in the coming years. The Pope inspires an atmosphere of understanding, reconciliation and peace between peoples and religions. His visit will encourage thousands of pilgrims around the world to follow in his footsteps. "