Pope Francis considering Israel visit next year

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Pope Francis said he may visit Israel as early as next year.

Francis at a wide-ranging news conference on Monday said he was considering a Holy Land visit next year aboard a plane returning him to the Vatican from Brazil, The Associated Press reported.

Francis accepted an invitation to visit Israel from Shimon Peres when the Israeli president was at the Vatican in April. No date for the visit was set at the time.

Francis was close to the Jewish community in his native Argentina.

In February, he became the first pope in modern times to succeed a living pontiff, Benedict XVI, after Benedict resigned. Benedict went to Israel in 2009, and his predecessor, John Paul II, visited in 2000.