VATICAN (CWN) -- Patriarch Raphael Bidawid, the leader of the Chaldean Catholic Church, has said that Pope John Paul II has expressed a desire to visit Iraq, and trace the footsteps of Abraham. But the Patriarch conceded that the time is not right for a papal visit today.

      The Eastern-rite Catholic leader was quoted today in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, a week after he held private talks with the Holy Father. "We are waiting for the appropriate conditions" to allow a papal visit, he said. He said that an invitation for such a visit had been issued more than a year ago by the Church in Iraq, with the approval of the country's government. The Pope indicated a desire to make such a visit, he said.

      The Patriarch emphasized that the invitation, and the Pope's response, were not designed to have any impact on the current crisis; in fact the invitation came long before the latest developments. Rather, the Pope wishes to make a pilgrimage to the original home of Abraham.

      There are roughly 600,000 Catholics in Iraq, amidst an overall population of 20 million.

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February 20-22, 1998 volume 9, no. 37          DAILY CATHOLIC