Page 2, 16th July 1999

16th July 1999
Page 2
Page 2, 16th July 1999 — The Vatican

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Locations: Rome


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The Vatican

Spokesman defends papal visit to Iraq

THE POPE was said to be spending part of his holiday in the mountains of northwestern Italy discussing the details and possible implications of his travels just before and during the millennium Jubilee, writes Bruce Johnston in Rome.

Dr Joaquin Navaro-Valls, chief Vatican spokesman, said that the Pope had been musing over "how beautiful it would be also to be joined by Jews and Muslims" when he went to Ur in Iraq, traditionally held to be the birthplace of Abraham.

He said the Pope had also made tentative plans to travel to Asia — possible destinations included the Philippines, Vietnam and India — for the conclusive phase of last year's Asian Synod in Rome.

But because Ur falls inside modem Iraq, the question of political implications, including the likelihood of a meeting with Saddam Hussein enraging the Israeli government, had been raised.

However, Dr Navarro-Valls said that so far there had been no official protest by the US government over the trip.

"He would go to Ur on the trail of Abraham, not Saddam," he said.

"It would be quite remarkable if someone did not understand that his intentions were solely religious."

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