BARI, Italy (AP) – Pope Benedict XVI is making his first pilgrimage since becoming pontiff, following in the much-traveled footsteps of his predecessor by visiting this seaside Italian city on Sunday.

The trip to Bari will last only a few hours, but it marks Benedict’s first pastoral visit in Italy since his April 19 election as the 265th leader of the Catholic Church. The city is home to the relics of the St. Nicholas, the fourth-century saint who remains one of the most popular in the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

Archbishop Francesco Cacucci of Bari told Vatican Radio this week that it was significant that Benedict was making Bari his first pastoral visit to close a conference on the centrality of the Sunday Eucharist.

“When John Paul II came to Bari in 1984, he called Bari the ‘bridge to the East’ precisely because of the relics of St. Nicholas,” Cacucci said. “So if Sunday is the central day in the life of Catholics, we know that it’s also so for the Orthodox world.”

Pope John Paul II was the most-traveled pope in history, making 104 foreign pilgrimages and 146 pastoral visits in Italy during his 26-year papacy.

Benedict has indicated he too will travel. He has said he is looking forward to attending the World Youth Day celebrations in Cologne, in his native Germany, this August – an appointment John Paul had hoped to keep himself.

He also told residents of Castel Gandolfo – the lakeside papal residence in the hills south of Rome – that he would spend the summer months there. The Vatican distinguishes between pastoral visits to Italian cities and visits to Castel Gandolfo.

Security was expected to be tight in Bari for the pope’s visit, which could draw tens of thousands of faithful. The city, on Italy’s eastern Adriatic coast, will be patrolled by hundreds of police forces, while coastal waters will be closed to private vessels, local police said.

AP-ES-05-28-05 1840EDT

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