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Pope plans millennium trip to Iraq

VATICAN CITY, May 28 -- Travel plans for Pope John Paul II to visit Iraq for millennium celebrations in the year 2000 are to be discussed next month in Baghdad. The British newspaper Times of London reported today a senior Vatican official is to travel to Baghdad in early June to pave the way a papal tour of the Holy Land.

The newspaper said 75-year-year-old Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, a close aide to the pope, will meet with Iraqi officials on the pontiff's planned trip. The 78-year-old pope reportedly hopes to follow in the footsteps of Abraham, the biblical patriarch who is revered by Christians, Jews and Muslims. Vatican officials say Pope John Paul's trip would take him to Iraq, where Abraham was born; Egypt, where he lived in exile; and Israel and the West Bank, where he made his 'covenant with God.' The pontiff reportedly believes 'a reconciliation of the three great monotheistic religions would crown his papacy, which this week became the longest of the 20th century.' There is some concern among key Western nations that the pope's visit may be used by Iraq's President Saddam Hussein to force quick lifting of the Gulf War U.N. embargo. Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz met the pope earlier this month in Rome to ask his support for lifting sanctions. It's been the pope's frequently voiced ambition to see the Holy Land and climb Mount Sinai with Jewish and Muslim leaders in the year 2000. Last month, Israeli leaders said prospects for the trip were improving after the Vatican apologized in March for past Catholic behavior toward the Jews. ---

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