Pope Francis will visit the Middle East in May, he announced Sunday to believers gathered at St. Peter’s Square in Rome.
"In the climate of joy typical of this Christmas period, I would like to announce that from May 24 to 26, God willing, I will carry out a pilgrimage to the Holy Land," the pope said.
Francis' visit -- his only foreign travel planned for 2014 to date -- is to last three days and include Amman, Jordan; Bethlehem and Jerusalem. "I ask you to pray for this pilgrimage, which will be one of prayer," the pontiff said.
Since Francis' election last March, Israeli and Palestinian leaders have extended invitations for him to visit the region.
Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President
Mahmoud Abbas each met with him in the months following his election, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Francis at the Vatican early last month.
Abbas welcomed word of the visit and expressed hope that it would bring "goodness and peace to the Palestinian people."
"He is very welcome in Israel and will be greeted as warmly as his predecessors were,” Yigal Palmor of the foreign ministry told local media.
The first pope to visit Israel was Paul VI, whose 1964 visit Francis seeks to commemorate, he said Sunday. The visit was short but a landmark in relations between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.
That visit was awkward for Israel and the Holy See, which did not establish diplomatic relations until 1993, when the Vatican recognized Israel.