VATICAN CITY - Given the Holy Land's long and complex history of military, religious and cultural conflict, the run-up to Pope Francis' May 24-26 pilgrimage was inevitably marked by fears it would be marred by controversy — or worse.

Pope Francis will meet with a group of sex abuse victims for the first time in June, he told reporters May 26.

JERUSALEM - The Pope had a simple plan as he set out for the Holy Land with a rabbi and a Muslim sheik in tow. But simple plans can be difficult to execute.

JERUSALEM - Pope Francis dedicated his final hours in Jerusalem to time with local Catholics, reminding them that despite difficulties, God is always by their side.

BETHLEHEM - Pope Francis has offered his home, the Vatican, to Israeli President Shimon Perez and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to pray together for peace.

BETHLEHEM, West Bank - Celebrating Mass a few steps from the spot traditionally believed to the birthplace of Jesus, Pope Francis said that the way society treats its young reveals its moral character.

Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are both on record accepting the invitation from Pope Francis to come and pray for peace at the Vatican.

BETHLEHEM - As workers continue to assemble the stage on which Pope Francis will celebrate Mass in Manger Square, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew visited the city of Jesus' birth, leading a procession of Orthodox bishops, priests and officials from the Palestinian Authority into the Church of the Nativity.

AMMAN, Jordan - Pope Francis began a densely packed visit to the Holy Land with a call for religious freedom in the Middle East, including respect for the right to change one's religion.

AMMAN, Jordan - Jordan's powerful and marginalized joined together at the banks of the River Jordan to welcome Pope Francis at the site believed to be where Jesus was baptized.

BETHLEHEM, West Bank - A long line of cars trailed down the road next to the Church of the Nativity as Franciscan Father Ibrahim Faltas helped coordinate the placement of the electricity generator for the May 25 papal Mass.

The “principle purpose” of the May 24-26 visit of Pope Francis to the Holy Land is not a conventional pilgrimage, as conducted by John Paul II and Benedict XVI. It is to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the meeting between Pope Paul VI and the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I.

Published in Guest Columnists

BETHLEHEM - Catholic priests in the Palestinian Territories want Pope Francis to press Israel to allow greater freedom of movement, especially access to holy sites in Jerusalem, and they expect the issue to be addressed when the Pope meets with Israeli leaders in Jerusalem on May 26.

Published in International

VATICAN CITY - When preparing for two canonizations that draw nearly 1 million people to Rome, people usually pack essentials like food, water, raingear and sunhats.

Published in Papal Canonizations