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Pope's trip to Iraq

Zenit News Agency []

ZENIT, December 11, 1999 - WEEKLY REPORT - The World Seen From Rome

Chaldean Patriarch Says Decision Was Taken for Safety Reasons

BAGHDAD, DEC 10 (ZENIT-FIDES).- John Paul II has been forced to postpone
his trip to Iraq again. Chaldean Patriarch Raphael I Bidawid, the
highest Catholic authority in the country, said the decision was made
for security reasons.

In statements to "Fides," the religious leader explained that the
pontifical trip has not been cancelled but simply postponed. "We are
very saddened by this new delay in the visit, but here in Iraq the
situation changes every day. In spite of this, the Pope's trip is only
postponed: the Jubilee Year is long and we are only at the beginning of
the millennium."

This morning the Vatican Press Office published a statement by its
director, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, explaining that "Iraqi authorities have
communicated to the Secretariat of State that the abnormal conditions in
which the country is living because of the embargo and the no-fly zone,
as well as the situation the region is experiencing, do not make it
possible to adequately organize the Holy Father's visit to Ur of the
Chaledeans, in Iraq."

The Chaldean Patriarch explained that this decision has nothing to do
with the criticisms of the Pope by some Iraqi intellectuals, who accused
him of scarcely mentioning the Muslims in a letter written to the
Christians of the country. According to His Beatitude Raphael I, these
criticisms have not had the slightest effect: "Only the West gives
importance to these things; here no one has been concerned about this."

The real reason for the new delay in the papal trip, the Patriarch said,
is the fact that Iraq cannot guarantee the safety of the trip: "The
Americans and British control all the air space. A few months ago they
bombed an area close to Ur. What would happen if they start bombing this
same areas during the Pope's visit? Or even if they don't, but some
cruel person does? Without a doubt the international community would
accuse Iraq. Everyone would be ready to blame our country."

"Nor is it a question of relations between the Vatican and Iraq,
either," the Catholic religious leader continued explaining. "I can say
the Iraqi government and the Vatican have an optimum relation. Iraq
would be honored to welcome the Pope. For all of us, Christians and
Muslims, the Pope is a saintly person. We do not want to profane the
visit of a holy man with an attack by a deranged person or some foreign

"The Pope intensely desires this trip," Bidawid concluded. "We Iraqis
all anxiously wait for him, but we shall have to hope for better times.
The trip was scheduled for January, at the beginning of the Jubilee
Year, but the Pope could come at the middle or end of the year."

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