DAILY CATHOLIC THURSDAY October 7, 1999 vol. 10, no. 191
NEWS & VIEWS
PREPARATIONS SUSPENDED FOR PAPAL VISIT TO IRAQ
VATICAN (CWNews.com) -- The Vatican has temporarily suspended for a scheduled papal visit to Iraq, because of mixed signals from the Iraqi regime.
Pope John Paul II is scheduled to travel to Iraq in December, to visit Ur of the Chaldeans, the ancient home of the patriarch Abraham. The visit, which the Holy Father describes as a pilgrimage, would mark one step in the Pontiff's plan to visit "the places that are tied to the history of salvation" during the next year.
However, although the Pope has stressed that his trip would be a purely religious pilgrimage, he cannot reach the site of Ur-- now located at the city of Tal al Muqayyar-- without first traveling to Baghdad. And in the Iraqi capital city, some powerful forces are evidently striving to make the papal visit a political event.
On September 29, the Iraqi news agency INA-- which is tightly controlled by the regime of Saddam Hussein-- published a statement by four leading intellectuals, who sharply criticized Pope John Paul for wishing to make a strictly religious pilgrimage, and insisted that while in Iraq he must issue a statement condemning "American-Zionist aggression" against that country.
Since that public statement appeared to reflect the thinking of some Iraqi government leaders, the Vatican decided to suspend preparations for the papal visit, pending a clarification from Baghdad. Vatican sources indicated that the clarification could come in the form of a formal written invitation to the Pontiff; to date, the Iraqi government has only extended an oral invitation.
Political analysts believe that the Iraqi regime is divided about the papal visit. Some figures close to Saddam Hussein believe that the Pope's presence would have a positive impact, since it would call attention to the suffering borne by the Iraqi people as the result of an international embargo. Others, however, point out that Pope John Paul could direct some blunt criticism against the country's totalitarian government.
Vatican sources, speaking privately, indicate that the Pope still intends to
make his pilgrimage to Iraq. Although the United States has protested
against the Pontiff's plans, no real obstacle has been placed in the way of a
visit, and the Holy See expects to resolve the latest political difficulties with
the Iraqi regime. However, if those problems are not resolved quickly, the
papal visit-- currently scheduled for December 2- 5-- might be moved back
to a later date.
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NEWS & VIEWS