ROME, Sept. 22 (JTA) – Pope John Paul II this week urged Israeli and Palestinian youth to maintain the momentum of the Middle East peace process and reiterated his determination to visit the Holy Land to mark the Christian millennium. The 79-year-old pontiff on Wednesday delivered what the Vatican called a written “message of peace” to three teen-agers from the Israel-based Peres Center for Peace, whom he met after his weekly general audience. They included a 15-year-old Christian boy, a 17-year-old Jewish boy and a 15-year-old Muslim girl. “You young people, and all those whom you represent, must be the first to realize the hopes of your peoples and of the world at large,” said the pope, who frequently addresses messages to young people. “The decisions you make concerning yourselves and your vocation in society will decide the prospects for peace, both today and tomorrow. “At the threshold of the new millennium, you must come to see more clearly that the future of peace, and therefore the future of all humanity, depends on the fundamental choices your generation will make,” he said. “It is a moral imperative that you help to construct a new society, to build a new civilization, based ever more solidly on mutual respect, brotherhood and the spirit of cooperation.” The pope noted the hopes attached to the Wye II accord signed by the Palestinians and Israel on Sept. 4. People everywhere, he said, have “trust and expectation” that it “will grow ever stronger and lead to an effective and lasting peace.” In his message, the pope reiterated his plans to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land this coming year, but did not mention specific timing or places. “You know that, if God wills, I plan to go to the Holy Land on a pilgrimage tracing the stages of the history of salvation. God willing, therefore, we shall have the chance to meet again on your own soil,” he said. In June, the pope formally stated that he wanted to visit biblical sites in Iraq, Syria, Greece, Israel and the Palestinian Authority as part of a pilgrimage celebrating the millennium. He is expected to visit sites in the Holy Land next March, but no itinerary has been announced. There is persistent speculation that he will go to Iraq in December to visit Ur, revered as the birthplace of Abraham. Plans for such a trip – which, if only for protocol, would probably necessitate a papal meeting with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein – have been hotly protested by Jewish groups, the U.S. and British governments, and Iraqi dissidents.
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