The Holy Sites That Trump Will Visit: Why This Matters

First overseas journey for the president begins Friday — and will have the faithful watching very closely

by Leah Jessen | Updated 18 May 2017 at 7:58 AM

President Donald Trump is preparing to head to the Middle East and Europe on Friday for his first presidential trip overseas — one that has deep religious significance for the administration.

“This trip is truly historic,” National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said last week at a White House press briefing. “No president has ever visited the homelands and holy sites of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths all on one trip.”

“The president will focus on what unites us.”

Trump will first visit Saudi Arabia; he’ll then travel to Israel in the first few days of his nine-day trip.

“What President Trump is seeking is to unite peoples of all faiths around a common vision of peace, progress and prosperity,” McMaster told reporters. “He will bring a message of tolerance and of hope to billions, including to millions of Americans who profess these faiths. The president will focus on what unites us.”

Trump announced his trip on May 4 (on the National Day of Prayer) while speaking in the White House Rose Garden.

Related: Trump: People of Faith Will Not Be ‘Bullied or Silenced Anymore’

“We will begin to construct a new foundation of cooperation and support with our Muslim allies to combat extremism, terrorism and violence,” Trump said.

Only some details of the trip have been made public thus far. “After the arrival ceremony in Riyadh [Saudi Arabia], the president will have coffee with King Salman, attend a royal banquet, and hold bilateral meetings with the king, the crown prince, and the deputy crown prince,” McMaster said Tuesday during a White House press briefing.

In Saudi Arabia, Trump "will meet with leaders of more than 50 Muslim countries. where he will deliver an inspiring, yet direct speech on the need to confront radical ideology and his hopes, the president's hopes, for a peaceful vision of Islam to dominate across the world," according to McMaster.

On the schedule are stops in Jerusalem, at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and at the Western Wall, McMaster told reporters.

"We have to stop radical Islamic terrorism," Trump said in reference to the trip on Wednesday during a commencement address he gave at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. 

On May 22 and 23, Trump will visit Israel. On this leg of the journey, he'll meet with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"The leaders will discuss a range of regional issues, including the need to counter the threats posed by Iran and its proxies, and by ISIS and other terrorist groups," White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in a statement earlier this month.

Also on the itinerary, Trump will meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem. "He will urge Palestinian leaders to take steps that will help lead to peace," said McMaster.

Related: What's Behind the White House's Western Wall Dodge

On the schedule are stops in Jerusalem, at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and at the Western Wall, McMaster told reporters.

Another significant part of the trip: Trump heads to the Vatican in Rome on Wednesday, May 24. Trump and Pope Francis, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, will meet. Trump will also tour St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican.

"In Rome, I will talk with Pope Francis about the contributions of Christian teachings to the world," Trump said Wednesday during his U.S. Coast Guard commencement address.

The pope and Trump have appeared to clash over issues such as immigration reform.

"I never make a judgment of a person without listening to them," Pope Francis told reporters last weekend. "In our talk things will come out. I will say what I think, he will say what he thinks, but I never, ever, wanted to make a judgment without hearing the person."

During his trip, President Trump also will attend summits in Brussels, Belgium, and Sicily.

"Obviously there [are] a lot of things that ... aren't finalized for security reasons," Sean Spicer told reporters Tuesday.

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