|HISTORIC SYRIAN PILGRIMAGE ENDS AS POPE DEPARTS FOR
VATICAN CITY, MAY 8, 2001 (VIS) - The Holy Father this morning celebrated Mass privately
at the apostolic nunciature and at 10:15 left for the Damascus Airport, where he was greeted by
Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, political, religious and civil authorities and the diplomatic corps.
He addressed those assembled to see him off, as he departs for Malta and the final leg of his 93rd
foreign apostolic trip.
"As I take my leave of the ancient land of Syria," he said, "I am filled with a sense of gratitude. I give
thanks above all to Almighty God for enabling me to continue my Jubilee pilgrimage of faith on the
2,000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ. I am grateful to St. Paul who has been my
traveling companion at every step of the way."
John Paul II also expressed gratitude to Syria's government and people and to all religious and civil
authorities who made his pilgrimage possible. "The Syrian people are renowned for their hospitality
and during these days they have made a pilgrim feel at home. I shall not forget this kindness." He
underscored how he "shall cherish the memory of my visit to the Omayyad Mosque."
"My pilgrim prayer," stated the Holy Father, "is that Syria will move confidently and serenely into a
new and promising future, and that your country will flourish in an era of well-being and
for its people.
"Syria," the Pope concluded, "is a vital presence in the life of this whole region, whose peoples have
long suffered the tragedy of war and conflict. But for the door of peace to open, fundamental issues
of truth and justice, of rights and responsibilities must be resolved. The world looks to the Middle
East with hope and concern, expectantly awaiting every sign of constructive dialogue. Many serious
obstacles remain, yet the first step towards peace must be a steadfast conviction that a solution is
possible within the parameters of international law and the resolutions of the United Nations. I
appeal once more to all the peoples involved, and to their political leaders, to recognize that
confrontation has failed and will always fail. Only a just peace can bring the conditions needed for
the economic, cultural and social development to which the peoples of the region have a right."
In off-the-cuff remarks made at the foot of the plane, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad shook the
Pope's hand at length and told him: "If Your Holiness ever wants anything from Syria, you only have
to let me know." The Pope thanked him for the warm welcome to Syria, and the president
responded: "I know you must be tired from this trip but I thank you for coming." To which John
Paul II replied: "You must be the youngest president I have ever met. Maybe I am the oldest and
you are the youngest."