Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of July 12, 1999
Pope to visit holy lands
By CINDY WOODEN
Catholic News Service
Pope John Paul said he intends to make a pilgrimage to the Middle East, meditating on the roots of Christianity and highlighting its links with Judaism and Islam.
"I have a strong desire to go personally to pray in the most important places which, from the Old to the New Testament have seen God's intervention," the pope said in a letter published June 30.
In the letter, Concerning Pilgrimage to the Places Linked to the History of Salvation, the pope said he wanted to walk in the footsteps of Abraham, Moses, Mary, Jesus and St. Paul.
The sites he listed included the ancient city of Ur in Iraq, Mount Sinai in Egypt, Nazareth and Jerusalem in Israel, Bethlehem in the West Bank, Damascus in Syria, and Athens in Greece.
"It will probably not be possible for me on my pilgrimage to visit all these places," he wrote.
"But I would like at least, please God, to visit Ur, the place of Abraham's origins, and then go to the famous monastery of St. Catherine on Sinai," as well as to Nazareth, Bethlehem and Jerusalem.
Vatican sources said two separate trips currently are in the planning stages: the first, to Iraq, possibly in November; and the second to Israel and Bethlehem in March or April 2000.
"More than any other pilgrimage which I have made," the pope said, "the one I am about to undertake in the Holy Land" will be marked by prayers for the unity of all Christian churches and communities.
The pope said a pilgrimage is a spiritual exercise that helps people contemplate the reality of God working in the world.
Pope John Paul said he wanted to join the "long procession of people, who for 2,000 years have gone in search of the 'footprints' of God in that land rightly called 'holy,' pursuing them, as it were, in the stones, the hills, the waters, which provided the setting for the earthly life of the Son of God."
The pope said he intends his Holy Year visit to the region to be "an exclusively religious pilgrimage in its nature and purpose, and I would be saddened if anyone were to attach other meanings to this plan of mine."
In the letter, the pope outlined his ideal itinerary and explained the spiritual significance of the sites.
First, he said, he would like to go to Ur, the present-day Tell el-Muqayyar in southern Iraq, the birthplace of Abraham.
Then, he said, he would like to go to Mount Sinai, where Moses was called to lead his people out of slavery and where he received the Ten Commandments.
Visiting the holy sites associated with Abraham and Moses, the pope said, "I wish to express the Church's awareness of her irrevocable links" with the Jewish people.
The pope said there are many places associated with Jesus' incarnation, birth, life, death and resurrection that he wanted to visit, "but I will have to be satisfied with the more important places," Nazareth, Bethlehem and Jerusalem.
In Jerusalem, he said, "I will have to visit the Upper Room, where Jesus instituted the Eucharist" and where the Apostles gathered with Mary in prayer on Pentecost.