Catholic World News News Feature
Papal Trip to Iraq Cancelled December 10, 1999
VATICAN (CWNews.com) -- After weeks of uncertainty, the Vatican has announced that the proposed visit by Pope John Paul II to Iraq has been definitely cancelled.
The December 10 announcement from the Holy See suggested that the plans had been scuttled because of internal political problems in Iraq. The statement said that Iraqi authorities had cited "abnormal conditions," allegedly created by the international embargo, as reasons for their inability to complete preparations for the Pope's visit. Pope John Paul II had indicated a lively desire to make a pilgrimage to Ur in the Chaldeans, the home of the Biblical patriarch Abraham. In fact, a visit had been scheduled for early December 1999. But that visit was postponed when the Vatican began receiving mixed signals from the Iraqi regime, raising questions about whether the trip could be conducted on the terms that Pope wanted-- that is, as a spiritual pilgrimage rather than a political gesture.
On December 1 the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, told reporters that the Holy See still did not have "a clear green light" for the visit, and indicated that Vatican diplomats were frustrated by the "perplexities of the Iraqi government." According to informed sources, that frustration was a product of moves by the Iraqi leadership to turn the Pope's visit toward their political advantage. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein evidently sought to use the Pope's stopover in Baghdad as an occasion to denounce the international embargo. In their note to the Vatican, Iraqi authorities said that maintenance of a "no- fly zone" in northern Iraq made it impossible to guarantee security for the Pope during his travel to the Chaldeans. However, sources inside the Vatican saw no real difficulty with the no-fly zone, since Western government authorities had already agreed to provide a clear air corridor for the Pope's plane.
This is the third time that Pope John Paul has been forced to set aside plans for foreign travel. In April 1994 and again in September 1994, the Vatican announced the postponement of plans for papal trips-- to Lebanon and Sarajevo respectively. In each case the postponement was caused by security concerns; and in each case the Pontiff was able to make the trip at a later date.
While the Pope will not travel to Iraq, plans for a trip to the Holy Land remain intact. Father Roberto Tucci, the Jesuit priest who regularly handles preparations for papal trips, will leave for Israel on December 13, to make detailed plans for the Pope's visit in March 2000.