HISTORICAL BACKGROUND ON PAPAL PILGRIMAGE TO THE HOLY LAND
 
   VATICAN CITY, MAR 16, 2000 (VIS) - Following both his commemoration of
   the patriarch Abraham during a ceremony in the Vatican, and his visit
   to Egypt and Mt. Sinai, the Holy Father will make a Jubilee pilgrimage
   to the Holy Land from March 20 to 26.
 
   John Paul II is the second Pope to visit the Holy Land. In 1964, Paul
   VI travelled to Amman and Jerusalem where, immediately upon his
   arrival, he said: "I bless this blessed land from which Peter departed
   and to which no successor of his, until this moment, has returned."
 
   This apostolic pilgrimage will cover some of the principal stages of
   the history of salvation including Mt. Nebo, the place from which,
   according to tradition, Moses contemplated the Promised Land before
   his death and the Jordan River which marks the entrance into the
   Promised Land of the People of the Covenant, and which became the
   symbol of the passage of all the baptized to a new life. It was from
   here that Jesus began the period of preaching that took Him to Galilee
   and Jerusalem.
 
   During this trip, the Pope will visit two states, Jordan and Israel,
   and go to the Palestinian Autonomous Territories.
 
   The term "Holy Land," as regards the hierarchy of the Catholic Church,
   embraces Cyprus, the West Bank, Jordan and Israel. Until 1929, the
   Holy Land was under the jurisdiction of the apostolic delegate in
   Syria who resided in Beirut, Lebanon. In March of that year, Pius XI
   decided that Palestine (which was then under British mandate) should
   become the responsibility of the pontifical representative in Cairo,
   Egypt, who had a residence in Jerusalem.
 
   On February 11, 1948 Pius XII established the Apostolic Delegation in
   Jerusalem and Palestine, which covered Israel, Jordan and the island
   of Cyprus. Now, following the establishment of diplomatic relations
   between the Holy See and Jordan on March 3, 1994, and between the Holy
   See and Israel on June 14, 1994, the apostolic delegation covers only
   Jerusalem and the Palestinian Autonomous Territories. At the present
   time there is an apostolic nunciature in Amman, Jordan, and another in
   Tel Aviv, Israel.
 
   The Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land was established
   by the apostolic delegate in Jerusalem. Its statutes were approved 'ad
   experimentum' on January 27 1992. It is made up of 12 Catholic
   ordinaries from various rites who have jurisdiction in the Holy Land.
   The 'ex officio' president is His Beatitude Michel Sabbah, patriarch
   of Jerusalem of the Latins.
 
   The Conference of Latin Bishops in the Arab Regions, which also has 12
   members, was erected by a decree from the Congregations for Oriental
   Churches and for Propaganda Fide on March 31, 1967 and its statutes
   were approved on August 23, 1986. The president and vice-president
   are, respectively, Patriarch Sabbah and Archbishop Paul Dahdah of
   Baghdad of the Latins, Iraq.
 
   According to the Statistical Yearbook of the Church, Jordan is 88,946
   square kilometers in size and has 6,300,000 inhabitants of whom 71,000
   are Catholic. It has 2 ecclesiastical circumscriptions, 2 bishops, 75
   priests and 260 religious. Israel is 20,700 square kilometers in area
   and numbers 5,970,000 people, of whom 107,000 are Catholic. There are
   9 ecclesiastical circumscriptions, 11 bishops, 371 priests, and 1,217
   religious.