Why Iraq Impeded Papal Trip in 1998

Cardinal Tucci Points to Apostolic Letter

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 14, 2003 (Zenit.org).- A cardinal made public the reason why Iraqi authorities impeded John Paul II’s visit to the homeland of Abraham in 1998.

Cardinal Roberto Tucci, who responsible at the time for planning papal trips, told Vatican Radio why the Pope wasn’t able to fulfill his wish of making a pilgrimage to Ur of the Chaldeans in Iraq.

Referring to the 1994 apostolic letter «Tertio Millennio Adveniente,» the cardinal said: «The first meetings, at the level of deputy minister of the Iraqi government, were focused on the fact that, according to them, the Pope had a Judeo-Christian vision in the document in which he expressed his desire to visit Abraham’s places of pilgrimage.»

«The proper vision, according to the Iraqi exponents, was the Islamic, which is different from the one presented in the Old Testament and taken up again primarily in St. Paul’s letters,» the cardinal added.

«We felt it was a bit strange that we should be talking specifically about this,» Cardinal Tucci continued.

«They based themselves on a document that the government requested, signed by Iraqi scholars, among whom were some Christians, which supported the government’s thesis, according to which, our view of Abraham was not totally correct,» he said.

«Later, other reasons arose. Naturally, they pinned the responsibility on the United States and England especially, because with the embargo and ‘no fly zone’ […] the country was being hindered from organizing a papal visit properly,» the Italian cardinal added.

«In particular, they said that they did not feel able to guarantee the security,» he said. «They could not say that the Pope’s trip was not being made because of prohibitions of the U.N., the United States or England, because we already knew that if the Pope were to go to Iraq the U.N. and the powers involved in controlling the disarmament in Iraq would not create difficulties.»

«We were taken aback and in the end nothing was concluded,» the cardinal continued. «We were not able to meet with more representative individuals, we were not able to meet with the Iraqi head of state. We were made to understand that the response would come later, and it was negative.

«I think all were taken aback by this ‘no.’ Even in the Arab world, I know that some leaders were astounded by this response. For example, Yasser Arafat was surprised by this negative answer, which seemed to go against his interests. He told me so later, when we went to plan the Pope’s trip to the Holy Land.»

Lastly, Cardinal Tucci denied past reports that it was the Vatican that had abandoned the trip. Some media said the Vatican gave up because of Iraq’s pressure on what it wanted the Pope to say in his speeches.

«There was no talk of this. It is not true, therefore, that we were given conditions that we could not accept,» the cardinal said.

The cardinal recalled that John Paul II had a great desire to make that visit, to the point that he organized a ceremony in Rome, a sort of «virtual» pilgrimage to Ur of the Chaldeans, on Feb. 23, 2000.

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