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
"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."