VATICAN CITY, MAR 17, 2000 (VIS) - Holy See Press Office Director
   Joaquin Navarro-Valls held a briefing this morning on Pope John
   Pauls's trip to the Holy Land, which starts on Monday, March 20. He
   listed a few changes and additions to the Pope's itinerary,
   highlighted the elements needed to understand this 91st foreign trip
   of the Holy Father's pontificate, and answered questions posed by
   One addition to the Pope's itinerary, said Navarro-Valls, occurs in
   Jordan where he will make a brief personal visit to Al-Maghtas
   (immersion, or pool) in the Jordan Valley near Jericho. Nearby there
   is a Greek Orthodox monastery where, since the fourth century, the
   Baptism of Jesus has been commemorated.
   On Thursday, March 23, the Holy Father will concelebrate mass with 12
   bishops and the cardinals of the papal party in the Chapel of the
   Cenacle in Jerusalem, after which he will sign this year's Holy
   Thursday Letter to Priests.
   Navarro-Valls also indicated that on March 23, the diplomatic corps
   and at least half of the Israeli Knesset or parliament will be present
   during the meeting between the Pope and the president of Israel.
   Afterwards, when the Pope goes to the Hall of Remembrance of Yad
   Vashem, there will be two rabbis present and about 20 Polish Holocaust
   survivors from the Pope's home town of Wadowice. Inside there will be
   a brief ceremony, following which the parties will go outside where
   the Pope will give a speech.
   He pointed out that on March 24, while the Holy Father is meeting with
   Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, one of the cardinals in the papal
   entourage will accompany a government official to a wooded area which
   will be named for John Paul II.
   On Saturday, March 25, the day of the papal Mass in Nazareth, the Holy
   Father, in his popemobile, will go through a Muslim neighborhood in
   Nazareth, according to the press office director.
   He underscored the importance of using the term "pilgrimage" to
   describe this trip to the Holy Land, as well as last month's papal
   trip to Egypt and Mount Sinai. This term, he stated, defines the very
   nature of the trip.
   Navarro-Valls then listed four aspects which must be born in mind to
   understand the meaning of this trip. He said that the Pope wishes this
   to be a pilgrimage to Biblical sites linked with the life of Jesus and
   a return, in a way, "to the roots of our faith," a continuation of the
   paths he has undertaken in the search for Christian unity and for
   interreligious dialogue, and lastly, a step forward in the search for
   peace in the Middle East.
   The fact that this is a pilgrimage, said the director, explains the
   great number of personal and private visits which the Holy Father will
   make during his stay. "He wishes to pray in these places and to bring
   the Church with him into the Third Millennium, following in the steps
   of Jesus." This was what was stressed to all the officials with whom
   we dealt in preparing for the pilgrimage, said Navarro-Valls.
   Saying that the Pope "is going to Israel as a friend of the Jewish
   people," he pointed to the friendly relations which Pope John Paul has
   with the Jews and underscored how, throughout his life and
   pontificate, "the Pope has told Catholics that anti-semitism and any
   form of racism is a sin." It was during John Paul II's pontificate
   that the Holy See and Israel established diplomatic relations.
   "The Pope is also going to the territories of the Palestinian National
   Authority as a friend of the Palestinian people," Navarro-Valls added.
   "He is going as the Pope who more than once has spoken of the right of
   Palestinians to a 'homeland'. In his homily the first Christmas that
   he was Pope, the Christmas of 1978, the Pope had already spoken of his
   desire to go to Bethlehem."
   Turning to the ecumenical dimension of the Holy Father's trip, he
   noted that, while the Church was founded here, the complete unity that
   Christ intended for His followers does not exist yet. The Pope, he
   said, hopes to pursue the path of ecumenical talks, in particular
   during his meeting in the Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem, and with
   the religious leaders of all the Christian Churches. On Sunday, March
   26, the Pope will visit the Armenian Patriarch.
   Navarro-Valls then pointed to the inter-religious aspect of this trip,
   highlighting that Jerusalem is a sacred city for followers of the
   three monotheistic religions; Jews, Christians and Muslims. "The Pope
   thinks," he said, "that religions must play a more determining role in
   the efforts made to establish a just and lasting peace" in the region.
   Quoting what he termed "a serious and well done Gallup poll" on the
   Pope's visit to the Holy Land, Navarro-Valls said that most Israelis
   believe that John Paul II is coming to either influence the Middle
   East peace process or spread a message of peace and dialogue.
   Calling it "an exceptional fact," Navarro-Valls affirmed that the
   Pope's trip will include an inter-religious encounter. A rabbi and a
   Muslim religious leader will attend.
   What cannot be overlooked, said the director, is that this pilgrimage
   also includes a visit to the local Church. He underlined the Mass on
   the Mount of Beatitudes as a singularly important event for Catholics.