DAMASCUS, Mar. 30, 01 (CWNews.com) – Pope John Paul will celebrate an open air Mass, meet with Islamic leaders and Syria’s president, and perhaps travel to the Golan Heights when he visits the Middle Eastern country in May. DAMASCUS, Mar. 30, 01 (CWNews.com) – Pope John Paul will celebrate an open air Mass, meet with Islamic leaders and Syria’s president, and perhaps travel to the Golan Heights when he visits the Middle Eastern country in May. Melkite Archbishop Izdor Battikha told Reuters the Holy Father would meet Muslim religious leaders at the Omayyad Mosque in Damascus, the first visit of its kind in history, but would not pray with them. He will also briefly visit the tomb of St. John the Baptist where his head is said to rest. The Pope will begin the May 5-8 trip with a meeting with President Bashar al-Assad at Damascus’ airport. He will also celebrate Mass at the Abbassiyen sports stadium with some of the estimated 16 percent of the country’s population of 17 million who are Christian. Saying that all patriarchs of the region would be invited to participate, including Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir of the Maronite Catholic Church in Lebanon who has been critical of Syria’s presence there, Archbishop Battikha said he did not expect the Holy Father to publicly mention Syria’s control over its neighbor. The Russian Itar-Tass news agency also announced on Friday that the Pope will visit el-Kunaitra, a town in the Israel-annexed Golan Heights that was returned to Syria as part of peace talks. The Holy Father will plant an olive tree for peace in the town which is symbolic of the intractable disagreements separating Israel and its neighbors.
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