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Adviser Sounds out Idea of Papal Trip to Israel, Iraq

Pope John Paul II may soon be walking in the footsteps of Abraham.

An aide to the pope is in Iraq to discuss the possibility of the pope’s visiting that country as part of a long anticipated papal tour of Middle East states to mark the start of the new millennium.

The first stop on his trip could be the Iraqi town of Ur, the birthplace of Abraham, who is revered by Christians and Muslims as well as by Jews.

Cardinal Roger Etchegaray is spending five days in Iraq as part of a mission that also takes him to Israel and Jordan, where he will hold similar discussion about a papal tour to the Middle East.

Etchegaray himself is to visit Ur on Thursday.

The pope has long expressed his dream of making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to mark the year 2000.

Such a trip would take him to Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Eygpt as well as the Palestinian self-rule areas.

In an interview in Baghdad published in the Rome daily La Repubblica, Etchegaray confirmed that the pope would like to convene a meeting of Jews, Christians and Muslims on Mt. Sinai.

While in Iraq, Etchegaray attended a conference of Iraqi Christians in Baghdad. Between 500,000 and 800,000 Christians live in Iraq.

At the meeting he reiterated the pope’s long-standing criticism of the sanctions imposed against Iraq after the Gulf War, saying they harmed innocent people.

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