Tuesday, March 23, 1999 Published at 05:07 GMT
Pope plans millennium trip to Israel
The Pope said he wanted to visit places linked with bible history
By David Willey in Rome
There is a strong prospect that Pope John Paul II will mark the new millennium with a visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories, after a visit to Jerusalem by a senior Vatican cardinal in charge of the Roman Catholic Church's holy year celebrations.
Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, the chairman of the Vatican's holy year committee, said it would be appropriate that the Pope should come to celebrate the 2000th anniversary of Christ's birth in the land where Jesus Christ lived.
But neither the Cardinal nor Moshe Katzav, the Israeli Tourist Minister, with whom he had talks in Jerusalem, could confirm that arrangements have been finalised for a Papal visit to the Holy Land.
Pope Paul VI was the first Pope to travel outside Italy since the Napoleonic wars when he visited Israel and Jordan in 1964.
Since then security considerations have made another papal visit impossible.
When the Pope announced the jubilee year celebrations back in 1994, he said he would like to visit places in the Middle East associated with bible history, including Jerusalem, Damascus, Mount Sinai and the birthplace of the Prophet Abraham at Ur in southern Iraq.
But the stalemate in the peace process between the Palestinians and Israelis and the aftermath of the Gulf War have prevented any firm plans being made.
Now, however, millions of Catholic pilgrims visiting Rome in the year 2000 are being encouraged both by the Vatican and Israel to continue their pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and the Pope clearly hopes to join them.
He would also like to mark the millennium by a gesture of reconciliation between believers in one God - Christians, Jews and Muslims.