While Pope Francis says Mass in Manger Square, Bethlehem there will be peace talks in the Middle East.

If there's anything religion is not, it is most certainly not a refuge from politics. Pope Francis is still several days from arriving in the Holy Land, but the politics of his visit are already raging.

JERUSALEM - Ahead of Pope Francis’ visit, Jewish religious and nationalist groups plan to demonstrate May 22 to demand that the Israeli government not cede sovereignty or control of the Cenacle, traditionally considered the site of Jesus’ Last Supper.

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The last fully and completely Christian village in the Middle East is home of the only beer manufactured in the Palestinian Territories. Taybeh beer is named after the town of 1,300 Palestinian Christians within sight of the Dead Sea.

The first Chancellor of Germany, Otto von Bismark, asked how many soldiers the pope has. Nineteenth century politics could be like that. But it's probably the wrong question for this century. Syria, Iraq, even Palestinian intifadas that pit rocks and kids against the most modern military in the region have demonstrated the limitations of boots on the ground. 

May 15 was Nakba Day — not exactly a holiday in the Palestinian West Bank because few people can afford to take a day off work, but a day of commemoration.

In modern, democratic culture there's almost nothing worse than protecting the status quo. it is to be on the side of privilege; to stand against the excluded. There can be no doubt that's a bad thing.

The graffiti which has appeared on the walls of some Jerusalem churches in advance of Pope Francis' visit is nothing new. Which makes in no less ugly and no less crazy.

VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis will be accompanied on his first visit to the Middle East by Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka and Muslim leader Omar Abboud — two friends from Buenos Aires.

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Below me the Bridgettine Sisters are chanting the office and it echoes through their guest house built into the hillside entirely out of stone, steel and tile. Outside the muezzin calls Muslims to prayer through giant loudspeakers.

BETHLEHEM, West Bank - With the last round of peace talks between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority stalled if not moribund, some are hoping that a scheduled visit by Pope Francis to the Holy Land in May will breathe new life into the peace process.

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I was in Bethlehem for one day in 2007, about this time of the year. There was an unnatural calm to the place. Streets were empty. Olive-wood carvings were piling up in the workshops in hope of a return of the tourists. But most shops weren't betting on it. Most were locked tight behind heavy metal doors.

JERUSALEM - Ahead of Pope Francis’ Holy Land visit, the heads of Christian churches in the region plan to launch an international awareness campaign following a series of anti-Christian vandalism believed to have been carried out by Jewish extremists.

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JERUSALEM - The simmering smell of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves in Catholic parishes

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