Eight facts about Pope Francis's tour of the Middle East.
Pope’s Middle East visit highlights his views on Palestine
• The official reason for the pope’s trip is for Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, to mark the 50th anniversary of a meeting by their predecessors in Jerusalem that ended the 900-year schism between the two churches.
• The two will preside over a service today in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which Christians believe is the site of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.
• Pope Francis’s visit marks the 50th anniversary of a historic trip to the region by Pope Paul VI in 1964, the first by a pontiff in the modern era. Pope John Paul II visited in 2000 and Benedict XVI in 2009.
• The pope lands in the West Bank first instead of Tel Aviv for the first time. Observers say this is a significant move reflecting the Vatican’s recognition of the State of Palestine, which was granted non-member observer state status by the United Nations in 2012.
• Unlike his predecessors who rode in bulletproof vehicles, Pope Francis is travelling in a regular car.
• Pope Francis is the first pope to travel with religious leaders from other faiths, who are joining part of his official entourage.
• Pope Francis is laying a wreath on the grave of Zionist movement founder Theodore Herzl, who is credited with laying the groundwork for the modern State of Israel.
* The National staff