Pope John Paul II is planning a visit to Syria early next year, religious and diplomatic sources said in Damascus Monday.
Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Hazim told AFP that a papal trip to Damascus was planned and would likely take place after the Orthodox church celebrates Easter in April, although no exact date has yet been fixed for what he described as a "short visit."
Hazim added that the pope has "frequently expressed an interest in coming to Syria, the land of Saint Paul," formerly Saul of Tarsus, who converted to Christianity on the road to Damascus.
Deputy Vatican spokesman Ciro Benedettini said John Paul II's intention to go to Damascus has been known for some time.
"The visit is being prepared," he told AFP in Rome.
Vatican sources added that the visit would take place during the indicated period.
There are up to two million Catholics and members of other Christian denominations living in Syria.
The head of the Roman Catholic Church visited Egypt in February, and toured Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan in March as part of pilgrimages to biblical sites in the Holy Land, to mark the Catholic Church's holy year, or Jubilee 2000.
He had also planned a visit last January to Ur, an ancient city in southern Iraq, believed to be the home of the patriarch Abraham.
But the visit fell victim to opposition by Britain and the United States, which fear that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein could use such a visit for political advantage – DAMASCUS (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )