Pope Benedict XVI has confirmed that he will travel to holy sites in Israel and the Palestinian Territories from May 11 to May 15, marking only the second time a pope has traveled to the Holy Land, and the first trip for Pope Benedict, reports Ha'aretz.
The pilgrimage has been in the works for quite some time, but the announcement of the dates was postponed because of the controversy surrounding the recent appointment of Bishop Richard Williamson who denied the extent of the Holocaust. The Church hopes the trip will help mend relations with Israel after the recent controversies, reports AFP.
The Pope will visit Nazareth, Bethlehem and Jerusalem, stopping to pray for peace in the region at the sites where Jesus once prayed, Ha'aretz reports.
Benedict told a crowd gathered in St. Peter's Square for the traditional noontime blessing that he was asking the faithful for their spiritual support for the Holy Land pilgrimage.
"I will make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to ask the Lord, by visiting the places sanctified by his earthly passage, for the precious gift of unity and peace for the Middle East and for all humanity. 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 pontiff said.
Specifically, Pope Benedict XVI will visit Qasr el-Yahud, where it is believed Jesus was baptized, the "Jesus Trail" between Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee, and the Good Samaritan site, reports The Gulf Times.
The Pope will skip the Holocaust Museum in Israel, though, says CNN.
The museum includes controversial wording that reflects a long-running dispute over the role of Pope Pius XII during World War II.
The pope will visit the memorial section of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, but will not step inside the museum part, the envoy, papal nuncio Antonio Franco, said at a news conference in Jerusalem.
The trip, which is classified as "high priority," will cost Israel NIS 43 million, or more than $10 million to renovate the sites before the papal visit, reports the Jerusalem Post.
The tourism industry hopes that the papal visit will be a moneymaker for Israel, as more than 40,000 pilgrims are expected to follow the Pope on his visit, reports Ynet News.
Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Israel in May is expected to generate $50 million in revenues to the Israeli tourism industry, Paul Milwizki, general manager of the Regency Hotel Jerusalem said this week. He added that at least 40,000 pilgrims were expected to arrive in the country during the Pope's stay here.
According to Milwizki, all 6,700 hotel rooms in the capital have already been booked for the week of May 8-15 2009, and hotels in the Dead Sea area, the outskirts of Jerusalem, Nazareth, Tiberias and Tel Aviv are also forecast to enjoy full occupancy during the visit.
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