Prayers and protests precede pope's Holy Land pilgrimage

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israelis and Palestinians are making final preparations for Pope Francis's arrival in the Holy Land on Saturday for a three-day visit.

Some ultra-Orthodox Jews are protesting plans for Francis to say Mass in the Upper Room where Jesus is believed to have gathered his apostles for the Last Supper before his crucifixion. They object to the Catholic ritual there because it's believed to be over King David's tomb.

Francis also plans to visit Jesus's birthplace in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, much of which is surrounded by an Israeli security barrier.

Members of the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation have been hammering chips out of that wall to form a cross they plan to give him. Foundation spokesman John Hanna says the cross will symbolize the presence of Christians there "since the beginning" and the cross that he says Palestinian Christians and Muslims are forced to bear.

Francis also plans to visit a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank, but said Wednesday that his pilgrimage will be "strictly religious," tempering expectations that he might take sides in the Mideast conflict.

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