By all accounts, Pope Benedict XVI had hoped the Holy Land would have been his first papal voyage. Following his 2005 election, the Pope wanted to reach Christianity's birthplace as soon as possible to make clear that a singular devotion to Jesus would be the driving theme of his papacy. But the realities of other Vatican travel commitments and the built-in complexities that come with this eternally contested stretch of territory meant that 11 other trips and four years of his often tumultuous reign would pass before Benedict ever could make the Middle East pilgrimage.
The weeklong visit to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories that begins Friday presents the most challenging and highly charged foreign mission to date for the 82-year-old Pope. With every step he takes and word he utters on this fragile land, the stakes are extra large for Benedict. He will indeed get to pray at Christianity's ancient holy sites, but success will by gauged along five very current objectives as complex as the region's troubled history.
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