Page last updated at 12:15 GMT, Sunday, 8 March 2009

Pope heading to Holy Land in May

Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict said he would pray for "the precious gift of unity and peace

Pope Benedict XVI has confirmed the first papal trip to the Holy Land since Pope John Paul II's visit in 2000.

The pontiff will visit the sites of Jesus' life in an 8-15 May trip taking in parts of Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan.

He is expected to visit Jordan's largest mosque in Amman, and stop in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth.

The news follows a row over the Pope's lifting of excommunication on a bishop who denies the extent of the Holocaust.

'Unity and peace'

Pope Benedict confirmed the latest visit in his traditional Sunday noontime blessing.

He said he would pray for "the precious gift of unity and peace for the Middle East and all of humanity".

The Vatican has been embroiled in an international row in recent weeks after Pope Benedict lifted an excommunication order on a British-born bishop who denies the extent of the Holocaust.

The Vatican later said the Pope had been unaware of Bishop Richard Williamson's views and had ordered him to recant.

At the end of February, the bishop said that if he had known the full harm his comments would cause, he would not have made them.

But the Vatican immediately rejected the apology and told him to "unequivocally and publicly" withdraw his comments.

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