Roger Cardinal Etchegaray, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, was recently in Baghdad to bemoan the "perverse" impact of the economic sanctions against Iraq. But Etchegaray -- who is the Vatican's chief planner for the 2,000th-anniversary celebrations -- was also laying groundwork for a papal visit. The thinking is that the pope will visit biblical sites, including Ur, the birthplace of Abraham, in present-day Iraq. Other tantalizing events for 2000, in the talking stage, are a summit meeting for world Christian leaders and an interreligious gathering, Jews and Muslims included, on Egypt's Mount Sinai.
Christians and Jews alike are fascinated with the prospect that Pope John Paul II will make his first visit to Israel to mark the anniversary of Jesus Christ's birth in A.D. 2000. The pope is ardently interested, but plans have long been entangled in politics and diplomacy. Now the Pope is also exploring a visit to Iraq.