THE SINAI PENINSULA AND ST. CATHERINE'S MONASTERY
 
   VATICAN CITY, FEB 26, 2000 (VIS) - This morning Pope John Paul II
   visited the Sinai Peninsula and St. Catherine's Monastery, thus
   completing the final phase and focal point of his first Jubilee Year
   pilgrimage.
 
   The Sinai Peninsula, 61,000 square kilometers, constitutes the Asian
   part of Egypt. It is bordered by the Mediterranean on the north, the
   Red Sea on the south, the Suez Canal, inaugurated in 1869, on the west
   and the Gulf of Aqaba on the east. The peninsula consists of sandy
   plains and flat beaches in the north and arid plateaus in the center.
   The southern edge consists of crystalline blocks which form the Sinai
   Massif where Mount St. Catherine is located, which, at 2,641 meters,
   is the highest point in Egypt.
 
   The monastery of St. Catherine is an Orthodox Church, autonomous in
   its government but not autocephalous. The abbot is elected by the
   community of monks, currently numbering 23, and is consecrated by the
   Greek Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem with the title of archbishop of
   the Sinai, Paran and Raitho.
 
   This is the site of the Biblical "burning bush" where Moses received
   the Ten Commandments from the Lord. Roots of this bush, as well as
   relics of St. Catherine, can be found inside the monastery.
 
   Hermits originally occupied this site. Byzantine Emperor Justinian I
   built a monastery there in 527 and dedicated the basilica to Mary,
   whose virginity the burning bush symbolized. In the seventh century,
   with the arrival of Islamic conquerors, the monastery was spared, on
   the condition that a small mosque be constructed within the walls.
   Still today mountain bedouins, who venerate Moses and are the
   traditional guardians of the monastery, pray there.
 
   St. Catherine's monastery has been known by the name of this martyr of
   Alexandria since the ninth century. Originally under the jurisdiction
   of Jerusalem, it became independent in 1575.
   PV-MOUNT SINAI/ST CATHERINE/SINAI VIS 000226 (310)