Barriers Will Not Stop Papal Pilgrimages

Two Stages Yet to Be Realized are Now Closer

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ROME, JAN. 9, 2001 ( Of all the Jubilee plans, the Papal pilgrimage to places of faith was perhaps the most ambitious. Of the five stages envisioned, Ur, Sinai, the Holy Land, Syria, and Greece, three have already taken place, although one only spiritually. However, Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, said that «deferring [the pilgrimage] does not mean it is cancelled.» On the contrary, «work is being carried out at a good pace» to realize the remaining stages, and Syria seems to be very close indeed.

The first stage, Ur of the Chaldeans, Abraham´s homeland, was only carried out spiritually. Just about one month before the expected departure for Iraq, scheduled for early December, when everything seemed ready, the Iraqi authorities announced the «impossibility» of «guaranteeing the security» of the Papal visit. There was much talk at the time of the reasons for the cancellation, with many contending that the decisive issue was the host government´s attempt to instrumentalize the visit. As a result, the Pope led a «spiritual» pilgrimage in the Vatican´s Paul VI Auditorium, in the presence of a large Iraqi delegation, symbolically completing the first stage of the Papal pilgrimage with the whole Catholic Church in Iraq, which joined in simultaneous prayer. However, the Pope has not lost hope of making this trip, as he has stressed several times, especially during a private audience with a group of Iraqi Jubilee pilgrims.

The two stages that have been completed, in February and March of last year, were the trips to Sinai and the long and moving visit to the Holy Land. Both these events, especially the latter, will be recorded in history because of their intrinsic significance and extraordinary importance for ecumenism and the interreligious dialogue.

In an interview published on January 6 in the Italian newspaper «Il Corriere della Sera,» Cardinal Angelo Sodano said that the pilgrimage to the Holy Land was central to the Pope´s intentions. «His trip was an unforgettable event. We remember the gestures that accompanied the Pope´s steps and words: in Sinai, the Jordan, the Upper Room, the Holy Sepulcher. John Paul II went to that region, which was sanctified by God´s passage in history, as a pilgrim; he was welcomed by all local peoples with great joy.»

The fact that the last two stages have yet to be realized does not mean that the Holy Father «has given up,» according to Cardinal Sodano. In fact, the the Pope is waiting for the time to be «ripe»; it is hoped that the trip to Syria will take place sometime this year. The other trips remain as plans that, «God willing, will find opportune realization at the right time,» the Cardinal added.

At present, the possibility of visiting Ur of the Chaldeans continues to be very remote, but there is talk that the trip to Syria will materialize in the spring. Nothing has been defined for the visit to Greece; however, a few weeks ago the Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church stated officially that «there are no reasons to impede the Pope» from visiting the country. The lack of invitation from the Orthodox Church had previously been the major stumbling block impeding a visit, so this statement effectively opens Athens´ doors to John Paul II.

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