Pope says Mideast pilgrimage "only inspired by religious reasons"

   VATICAN CITY, March 19, (AFP) -
   Pope John Paul II insisted Sunday that his historic visit to the Holy
   Land is "only inspired by religious reasons."
   Speaking during mass in St Peter's Square in front of a 30,000-strong
   congregation, the Pope asked the faithful to pray for this very
   symbolic pilgrimage which starts Monday.
   "I am preparing for this with great emotion," he said.
   The Pope is to carry out a six day tour of Jordan and the Holy Land to
   pray for peace in a region that bears the scars of more than 50 years
   of Arab-Israeli conflict.
   But the Vatican has insisted that the Roman Catholic church had no
   solution to the region's problems.
   Making the first papal visit to the region since 1964, the Pope will
   follow in the footsteps of people holy to Christians, Muslims and
   Jews, and pay in Christianity's most sacred places.
   Meetings with representatives of all three religions are planned to
   promote inter-faith dialogue.
   Security for the visit is high, amid some controversy on both sides
   about the Pope's arrival.
   The pilgrimage will start at Jordan's memorial to Moses on Mount Nebo
   and end next Sunday with a mass at Jerusalem's Church of the Holy
   Sepulchre, where according to Christian tradition Jesus was buried.
   "The pope wants his journey to serve the cause of peace and contribute
   to bringing peace and justice to a region which has not known either,"
   Vatican spokesman Joaquim Navarro-Valls said.
   But he stressed the pontiff has no political solutions to the problems
   facing Muslims, Christians and Jews, although a meeting with
   representatives of all three religions is planned to promote
   inter-faith dialogue.
   "The pontiff thinks the three monotheistic religions should play a
   more determining role to establish a just and durable path. They
   should find in their respective traditions means of playing this
   role," Navarro-Valls said.
   Arab and Israeli officials agree that the pope could help bring peace
   to the strife-torn region.
   "The visit could be influential because it could encourage the feeling
   that we're moving toward a historic peace that could occur in our
   region this year," Israeli government secretary Yitzhak Herzog said.
   Jordanian Information Minister Saleh Kallab, whose country signed a
   peace treaty with Israel in 1994, said the pope's presence "indicates
   that peace has become a reality in the Middle East."