Pope Francis renewed his call for an end to war and terror as he finished his three-day journey to the Middle East with a marathon of meetings.
Most Israelis welcome Francis' visit to the Holy Land as a chance to show the world a side of Israel that supports tolerance and dialogue.
It sounds a little far-fetched and for some purists perhaps unthinkable: A pope, a rabbi and a sheik decide to travel to the Holy Land and follow in the steps of Jesus.
But that is just one of the groundbreaking aspects of Pope Francis’ three-day visit to the Middle East that starts on Saturday (May 24), a visit in which he hopes to shore up interfaith dialogue, strengthen diplomatic relations and find new ways to build peace.
A lack of courageous leadership has hampered the peace process, one woman said. "How many courageous hearts do we have in the world? Francis is a courageous heart."
When Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople meets Pope Francis, they will discuss the "diminishing Christian minorities in the Middle East."
The heads of Christian churches in the region plan to launch an international awareness campaign following a series of anti-Christian vandalism.
A Catholic convent near Jerusalem and a largely Maronite village in Galilee were damaged in recent weeks as a two-year wave of vandalism directed at Christians and Muslims in Israel and the West Bank continued.
In late March, anti-Christian and anti-American graffiti was scrawled on the walls of the Deir Rafat convent, also known as Our Lady Queen of Palestine. The tires of cars at the monastery also were slashed.
Repeated references to persecution of Christians, "usually referring only to what Christians suffer at the hands of criminals claiming to be Muslims, plays into the hands of extremists," said Catholic leaders in the Holy Land.
When Pope Francis visits the Holy Land in May, he will follow the pattern he set last year in Brazil by meeting with the leaders of the three nations he will visit as well as with the less fortunate.
But the trip also will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, and it is for that reason the theme of the trip is: "So that they may be one."