VATICAN CITY, MAY 2, 2001 ( John Paul II spoke of his hopes for his upcoming pilgrimage in St. Paul´s footsteps, and asked for prayers for "this trip which is so meaningful for me."

On Friday he begins his 93rd international trip as Pope, which will take him to Greece, Syria and Malta from May 4-9. He hopes the trip gives a boost to unity among Christians, especially with the Orthodox, and to dialogue and cooperation with the Muslim world. The Orthodox are the majority in Greece; Muslims make up 90% of Syria´s population.

"After having been in the Sinai, where God revealed himself to Moses, and in the Holy Land, I am now preparing to go to some cities especially linked to St. Paul´s vicissitudes," the Pope told the pilgrims gathered in St. Peter´s Square for the midweek general audience. "My pilgrimage in the footsteps of the great apostle will mean a return to the roots of the Church."

"This trip will take me to Athens," he said, "in whose Areopagus St. Paul pronounced his illuminating discourse on the meeting of the Gospel message with an important culture, as the Greek. Later, I will continue to Damascus, the place that evokes Saul´s conversion, and lastly, I will arrive in Malta, where the Apostle to the Gentiles was shipwrecked, while going to Rome as a prisoner."

The Pontiff asked the faithful to pray for the success of this pilgrimage. "May it be a happy occasion to increase understanding with Orthodox brothers, fostering ultimate progress on the road toward the full unity of Christians!" he said.

Finally, "I hope that my visit to Syria and, in particular, to the Great Mosque of Damascus, will serve to reinforce the interreligious dialogue with the followers of Islam, and foster determination for peaceful coexistence," the Holy Father concluded.