Pope Francis will be the fourth head of the Catholic Church in modern times to visit the region.
Pope Francis will spend three days traveling through the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Amman, Jordan. His trip will take place 50 years after Pope Paul VI became the first modern-era pope to visit the Holy Land. He will meet with an Orthodox Christian leader as well as Anglican and Protestant church officials.
"It's less newsworthy now that the pope will travel to Israel and Palestine than it was a generation ago, but it is also significant to note it comes very early in his papacy, which I think shows it is a high priority. John Paul traveled more than any pope in history…but he didn't go to Israel until the 22nd year of his papacy." Rev. Alistair Sear, former church historian
Pope Francis celebrated his 77th birthday on Dec. 17. In the morning, Archbishop Konrad Krajewski (pictured speaking with the pope), asked three homeless men sleeping outside of the Vatican if they would join the pope for his "birthday party" of morning Mass and breakfast.
Also on his birthday, the pontiff named early Jesuit Father Pierre Favre (aka Peter Faber) a saint. Francis -- the first Jesuit pope -- employed a rule known as "equivalent canonization" to name the 16th century priest a saint by decree.
The LGBT U.S. magazine "The Advocate" named Pope Francis its "Person of the Year" on Dec. 17 saying, "[people shouldn't] underestimate any pope's capacity for persuading hearts and minds in opening to LGBT... people."
TIME magazine named Pope Francis as its Person of the Year for 2013. The magazine praised the pope for his humility and eschewing of papal privileges to change the "music" of the Vatican City.
Pope Francis, the first pope from Latin America, was born Jorge Mario Bergoglio. He studied at the Theological Faculty of San Miguel and was ordained a Jesuit in 1969. He completed a doctoral dissertation in Germany and served as a spiritual director in Cordoba. He replaced Pope Benedict XVI, who resigned in February.
Bergoglio was elected President of the Argentine Episcopal Conference in 2005 by a wide majority, and re-elected to the post in 2008. He has been praised for his treatment and attitude toward poor people.
For the first time since Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Pope Francis, the Vatican defended his record on Mar. 15 over actions during civil unrest in his native Argentina in the 1970s. Rev. Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said there had never been a "concrete or credible accusation" against him.
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