by our Rome correspondent POPE John Paul II will after all consecrate the Ivory Coast's controversial desert cathedral of Notre Dame de la Paix, an almost exact copy of St Peter's Basilica in Rome.
He is expected to travel to Yamoussoukro, birthplace of the poverty-stricken African country's president and site of the cathedral, on September 10 on his way back to Italy after visiting Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda.
The Ivory Coast's 85-year-old President, Felix HouphouetBoigny, has always said he built the vast church, bigger in places than St Peter's, at his own expense.
On April 14 of last year he presented it as a gift to the Holy See but the gesture embarrassed the Vatican on two fronts. The Holy See stressed it did not have the financial resources for the cathedral's maintenance, and lamented the contrast between the cathedral's pomp and the Ivory Coast's status as one of the African continent's less developed countries.
In the spring, Vatican diplomats were advising John Paul to waive inevitable international criticism by . excluding the Ivory Coast from his September itinerary unless President Houphouet-Boigny agreed to certain conditions.
It is now known that the Pope requested the elderly head of state to "integrate" works of a social assistance nature with the cathedral's construction.
The president agreed and a 300-400 bed hospital will be built in the Yamoussoukro zone. John Paul will bless its first stone during his brief stop-over.
Also during his African visit, he will preside over a meeting of the African Synod's Council comprising bishops of 16 French-speaking countries of the continent.