March 14, 2000

JERUSALEM ( - The Latin-rite patriarch of
Jerusalem said today the papal visit to the Holy Land will
have a mainly spiritual character rather than a political
one, despite efforts to use it for political purposes.

Patriarch Michel Sabbah said Pope John Paul II will have a
spiritual message when he visits the region next week and
those seeking political statements will be disappointed.
"What the Pope will say when he visits the Holocaust Museum
or Dheisheh Refugee Camp will be decided by the Pope
himself," he said.

The patriarch also announced that the Holy Father will
visit the site of Jesus' baptism in the Jordan River from
the Palestinian side before going to Bethlehem. The area is
still under Israeli control and, thus will not be
accompanied by Palestinian officials, in an ironically
political decision.

The order to close Palestinian shops in Jerusalem's Old
City during the papal visit raised concerns among some
Palestinians, but Patriarch Sabbah said, while he is not
happy with the decision, he recognized the necessity for
the security of the Holy Father.