Media Watch

Why the Pope Cancelled February Trip to Iraq

AVVENIRE, Mar. 3 — The failure of the proposed papal trip to Iraq was due to the political opportunism of the Iraqi government, the Italian daily reported.

The Pope's plan to visit biblical spots in the Middle East and Asia was supposed to have brought him to Iraq in early February.

In early December, the Pope cancelled the trip, making instead a “spiritual” pilgrimage to Abraham's birthplace on the eve of his February trip to Egypt.

The official reason for the cancellation was announced by Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro-Valls on Dec. 10. “The Iraqi authorities,” he explained, feel unable to “organize adequately the Pope's visit to Ur of the Chaldeans.”

“Behind all the dispositions of the Iraqi government there was a very specific calculation,” reported Avvenire.

“They thought that, in spite of the Pope's repeated affirmations about the spiritual nature [of the pilgrimage], it would not preclude [Iraq's] re-launching of this country, decimated by the embargo, on the international scene, and scoring a political success.”

The Vatican considered the above conditions “unacceptable,” and, according to the Italian newspaper, cancelled the journey.

Pope Meets With Grandson of Former Landlord

THE NEW YORK TIMES, Mar. 13 — A New York psychiatrist whose grandfather once rented rooms to Pope John Paul II and his father, met with the Pope in Rome March 12, the Times reported.

Ron Balamuth, whose father survived the Holocaust and moved to Israel, has been struggling for years to regain his family's title to the house, which now serves as a papal museum.

Balamuth said he wants a plaque placed at the door of the house which explains that it was home both to the Pope and to the Balamuths, many of whom died in concentration camps during the war.

In his March 12 meeting with the Pope, arranged by Aharon Lopez, the Israeli ambassador to the Holy See, and Jerzy Kluger, a Jewish boyhood friend of John Paul's, Balamuth asked the Holy Father what he remembered about his family.

According to Balamuth, the Pope stood and held his hand throughout their 15-minute discussion.

“That was very moving,” he said, adding that the Pope lit up when he showed him an old photograph of the storefront beneath the house.

“I asked him about my father, who died in 1969, whether he got into mischief,” Balamuth recalled. At this, the Pope “looked at me and said, ‘No, he was a good boy,’” adding that the Holy Father was almost reproachful, as if to say, “Don't be disrespectful to your parents.”