VATICAN (CWNews.com) -- If Pope John Paul II had not intervened, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan might never have made his personal trip to Iraq, during which he concluded an agreement that staved off the threat of new warfare in the Persian Gulf. That was the report of Archbishop Renato Martino, the permanent observer of the Holy See at the United Nations.

      At a Vatican press conference today, Archbishop Martino said that the Holy Father's influence may have been decisive in persuading Annan to undertake his negotiating mission. The Vatican diplomat said that he had found the UN official very doubtful about the prospects for such a mission, until he received energetic support from the Pope. From that point forward, he said, the Annan mission was fixed on the UN schedule.

      Since returning from his successful trip, Archbishop Martino reported, Annan has often thanked the Holy See's representative for the expression of Vatican support. Annan has said that the power of prayer is often underestimated, and given the Pope credit for making the trip possible.

      In a related story Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, the chief foreign-policy official at the Vatican, fears a new setback for peace in the Middle East, and believes that Pope John Paul II cannot visit the Holy Land under current circumstances, because his trip might be interpreted as "sanctioning situations of international injustice."

      In conjunction with a press conference held in Rome to introduce a new book consisting of all Vatican interventions at the United Nations, Archbishop Tauran-- the Holy See's Secretary for Relations with States-- told an Italian radio interviewer that he is increasingly worried by the Middle East.

      "The Pope and his collaborators are watching all evolution of the political situation in the Middle East with a great deal of concern," the archbishop said. "Personally, I fear some dramatic developments." He went on to say that frustrations were building among both Palestinians and Israelis, who are impatient for some concrete results. "There is a danger that those frustrations will produce irrational reactions," he observed.

      Asked whether the Holy Father is likely to fulfill his ambition to visit the Holy Land during the year 2000, Archbishop Tauran said that question posed "a great dilemma." By going to the Middle East, he said, the Pope could act as a symbol of peace and reconciliation. On the other hand, his appearance there might be taken to signal approval for the current political situation-- which the Holy See considers unacceptable. For that reason, the archbishop said, at the moment such a trip would be impossible. "Two years from now, we will see what has developed," he concluded.

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April 17-19, 1998 volume 9, no. 75         DAILY CATHOLIC