Pope Francis today announced that he plans on making a papal trip to the Holy Land toward the end of May of this year. There was speculation that such a trip was in the works. He will be visiting Amman, Jordan, Bethlehem and Jerusalem, and while visiting these holy sites in pilgrimage, he will also seek to strengthen ecumenical ties with the Orthodox and other Christians, show unity with our Jewish and Palestinian sisters and brothers, and draw attention to the plight of Christians in that part of the world.
The announcement and experience of a papal trip is rather commonplace these days. John Paul II raised travel to new heights in his long papacy. But aside from a few short trips in Italy, the first real papal trip was taken by Pope Paul VI fifty years ago yesterday and today when he made a quick, fifty-seven hour trip to the Holy Land visiting Amman, Jordan and Nazareth and the Lake of Tiberias before returning to Jerusalem and Bethlehem. I remember the powerful pictures in Life Magazine of the Holy Father at the water's edge and the image of Athenagorus, the Patriarch of Constantinople and Pope Paul VI meeting and embracing after centuries of division between the two Churches and a "lifting" of the mutual excommunications that had existed. This was a monumental moment in the life of the Church, and Pope Francis' visit in May will honor that moment with his own presence in that land called Holy by so many children of Abraham.
I remember in gratitude the beginning of those papal trips that Pope Paul VI initiated, including visits to the UN in New York and Mass at Yankee Stadium among others. It brings Peter to the world family, and this is good.