|Israel||POPE TO STOP NEAR JERICHO|
It is believed Pope John Paul II will not accept an invitation from Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to visit Jericho. But he will make a short, quiet visit to a site near the ancient town-- the reputed site of Christ's baptism.
Although the Holy See has not officially confirmed the plans, informed sources indicate that the Pontiff will travel next Wednesday, to Al-Maghtas, near the Jordanian border. That is one of two sites which pose rival claims to be the spot where Jesus was baptised by St. John the Baptist. (Christians in Jordan lay claim to a different site nearby, visit Wadi Al-Kharrar, as the spot of the baptism.)
The Pope's visit will be brief, and publicity will be kept at a minimum, because of security concerns. The area surrounding Jericho has been troubled by tensions since the killing of Muslim worshipers by a Jewish fanatic there. The Pope will apparently not actually enter Jericho; officials have decided that such an appearance would have unavoidably strong and controversial political repercussions.
Meanwhile a street in Bethlehem will be named after John Paul II, in honour of his forthcoming visit to the Palestinian city of Jesus' birth.
"We are ready for the great day of the Pope's arrival. The City Council decided that an important street of our city will be named after John Paul II, who within a few days will honor us with his visit," Hana Nasser, mayor of Bethlehem, said to "Al-Quds" newspaper of East Jerusalem.
Bethlehem already has a street named after Paul VI, who visited this city and the Holy Land 36 years ago.
And the Israeli airline El Al has announced it will organise some 20 special flights from Italy, Spain and the United States, beginning today, to transport the thousands of pilgrims who are traveling to the Holy Land to see the Pope. Border procedures at Ben Gurion International Airport have been simplified, so that all transactions are concluded as rapidly as possible.
CWN & Zenit (available soon)