Pope Francis
A handout picture released by the Osservatore Romano shows Pope Francis (L) holding a mass to celebrate the sainthood of Pierre Favre at the Chiesa Del Gesu' in Rome on January 3, 2014. Photo by AFP
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Pope Francis announced on Sunday that he will visit Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan in May, his first trip to the region as pontiff.

The May 24-26 trip to Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Amman will mark the 50th anniversary of a landmark trip there by Pope Paul VI in 1964, the first by a pope in modern times. Pope John Paul II visited in 2000 and Benedict XVI went in 2009.

On December 2, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Pope Francis in the Vatican as part of Netanyahu's visit to Rome. Netanyahu, who was accompanied by his wife Sara, gifted the pope a book about the Spanish inquisition written by his father Benzion Netanyahu, a prominent historian. It bore the inscription: "To His Holiness Pope Francis, great guardian of our common heritage." The pontiff gave the Israeli premier a carved panel of Saint Paul.

At the end of the 25-minute meeting, Netanyahu's wife told the pope: "We are expecting you, we can't wait."

“Dialogue and friendship with the children of Israel are part of the life of Jesus’ disciples,” Francis wrote in "Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel), a 224-page document outlining the pope' vision of the church and its mission released in November. “The friendship which has grown between us makes us bitterly and sincerely regret the terrible persecutions which they have endured, and continue to endure, especially those that have involved Christians.”