Pope makes a virtual pilgrimage


ROME, Feb. 23 (JTA) — Barred by politics from making the trip in person, Pope John Paul II this week took part in a multimedia virtual pilgrimage to Ur, the ancient town in Iraq revered as the birthplace of the patriarch Abraham.

The 79-year-old pope had wanted to visit Ur as part of a series of pilgrimages to biblical sites this year to mark the beginning of Christianity’s third millennium.

He was scheduled to leave Thursday for Egypt, where he will visit Mount Sinai, and next month he travels to Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. Plans for the Ur trip fell through in December, when Iraqi officials said they could not ensure security or adequately organize the visit due to continuing U.N. sanctions.

On Wednesday, before 7,000 faithful, dozens of cardinals and hundreds bishops, the pope presided over a ceremony that included readings from the Bible and a film of Ur’s desert ruins. He sat on a red throne on a stage in a Vatican audience hall.

Torches and two oak trees, plus a big boulder representing the stone on which Abraham nearly sacrificed Isaac, set the scene.

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