Washington Archbishop James A. Hickey, sometimes characterized as the "point man" in the Roman Catholic hierarchy's critique of U.S. policy in Central America, will join four other high-level prelates for a week-long fact-finding mission to Nicaragua and El Salvador.

The group, which is scheduled to leave next Sunday and to return March 2, will include Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago and Archbishop John J. O'Connor of New York.

They are making the trip in response to invitations from the bishops' conferences of the two countries. The group will visit American missionaries in the area.

In El Salvador, the group also will confer with the council of presidents of the Central American Bishops' Conference, representing Catholics in Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador.

Hickey has made several visits to the area, both as archbishop of Washington and previously as bishop of Cleveland.

He repeatedly has spoken out on behalf of the U.S. Catholic hierarchy -- in congressional hearings and private conversations with government leaders -- against escalation of U.S. military aid in El Salvador.

In their public policy statements on Central America, U.S. Catholic bishops seek to reflect, as much as possible, the views of their counterparts in that part of the world.