Pope's visit to Holy Land will be test of diplomacy

JERUSALEM -- Pope Francis flies to the Mideast overnight on a trip that will include his first visit to the Holy Land as leader of the Catholic Church. The pope has said the visit is about celebrating improved relations between Catholics and Orthodox Christians, but it's also about the continuing tensions between Christians and Jews.

Jerusalem has been both a holy place and a battlefield for centuries, where real estate is precious and the sacred can be profane.

Among the most hallowed sites is King David's tomb. Ultra-Orthodox Jews pray here all day long, but the room above it is revered by Christians as the place of Christ's Last Supper.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews fear the Vatican wants to make the site a church, which by Jewish convention would mean Jews could no longer pray in the tomb.

But the ultra-Orthodox Jews have political allies, such as Jerusalem city councilman Arieh King.

"This is our city, this is our Holy Land," King says. "We don't have any other capital in the world that we can say is the capital of the Jewish people, or it's the land of the Jewish people, or it's the state of the Jewish people."

Anti-Christian graffiti has recently been sprayed on churches and mosques. Palestinian Christians feel especially vulnerable. They make up barely 2 percent of the population in the Holy Land and their numbers are shrinking.

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Father Aziz Halaweh
CBS News

Taybeh claims to be the only completely Christian village left in the Palestinian territory. Father Aziz Halaweh sent a letter to Pope Francis asking for help.

"We are suffering from a big discrimination against us, and especially against our Christians and our Palestinian people," he says.

The theme of the papal trip is "Let there be one." Even coming close to that will require a giant leap of faith.

This trip will be different from other papal visits to the Holy Land. There are a lot of expectations; Pope Francis is known for doing the unpredictable, but he likely does not want to plunge too deeply into the politics.

The pope upset the Israelis slightly by referring to his visit to Bethlehem as a visit to the state of Palestine, which Israel doesn't recognize. But in the interest of making it all work, the Israelis are not making a big fuss about it.

  • Allen Pizzey

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