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Pope takes pilgrimage to Bethlehem

BETHLEHEM, Palestinian Territories - Pope Francis arrived in Bethlehem Sunday to begin the most sensitive part of his three-day Middle East tour aimed at easing an ancient rift with Orthodox Christians and forging regional peace.

He made the short trip from Amman, where he began his visit Saturday, aboard a Jordanian military helicopter.

The pontiff appeared tired as he was helped down the steps to a red carpet welcome from local Palestinian officials and priests.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas received him at his palace with a warm embrace.

Francis, who made an urgent appeal Saturday to end the bloodshed in Syria, has now taken his "pilgrimage of prayer" to the Palestinian territories. There he was to celebrate mass with 10,000 people in Bethlehem’s packed Manger Square, near the site of Jesus’ birthplace.

He was scheduled to travel to Israel later Sunday.

Although Francis himself has said it will be a "purely religious trip," both Israel and the Palestinians will be looking to use the visit to score a few political points.

The Vatican said the main reason for the visit was a meeting in Jerusalem with Bartholomew I, the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, seeking to heal a nearly 1,000-year rift between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches.

AFP


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