Pope Francis Considering Israel Visit Next Year

Francis accepted an invitation to visit from Shimon Peres when the Israeli president was at the Vatican in April.

Pope Francis said Monday  that he may visit Israel as early as next year.

At a wide-ranging news conference aboard a plane returning him to the Vatican from Brazil, Francis said he was considering a Holy Land visit next year, The Associated Press reported.

Francis was close to the Jewish community in his native Argentina.

In February, he became the first pope in modern times to succeed a living pontiff, Benedict XVI, after Benedict resigned. Benedict went to Israel in 2009, and his predecessor, John Paul II, visited in 2000.

Francis accepted an invitation to visit Israel from Shimon Peres when the Israeli president was at the Vatican in April. No date for the visit was set at the time.

The pope accepted the invitation "with willingness and joy," a Vatican spokesman said, but there was no indication at the time when a trip would be made.

"I am expecting you in Jerusalem, not just me but the whole country of Israel," Peres told the pope in the presence of reporters after 30 minutes of private talks in the Vatican's Apostolic Palace.

AP