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Vatican says Pope will not make return visit to Rome synagogue

Pope John Paul II will not make a return visit to Rome's synagogue this spring to help celebrate its 100th anniversary, the Vatican said.

Instead, the pope is sending two cardinals to the ceremonies in late May, the Vatican said in a statement on Tuesday.

Attending as the pope's personal representative will be Cardinal Camillo Ruini, papal vicar of Rome. He will be accompanied by Cardinal Walter Kasper, head of the Vatican's Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews.

The Vatican gave no official explanation for the pope's decision not to attend the anniversary ceremonies, but one Vatican source called the decision "prudential." He cited the political situation in the Middle East as one factor and the pope's health as another.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz says Pope John Paul has worked throughout his 25-year pontificate to improve relations between Catholics and Jews. During his 1986 visit to the monumental building facing the Tiber River, he referred to Jews as "our elder brothers."

The pope made an official visit to Israel in 2000, a few years after the Vatican and the Jewish state established formal diplomatic relations.

"I'm very sorry," Rome's chief rabbi Riccardo Di Segni told the ANSA news agency after the Vatican announcement. "Obviously his representatives will be welcomed."

The Jewish community announced a month ago that it had made the invitation.

Haaretz says the Pope has made few appearances outside the Vatican in recent months, but Vatican officials are considering several foreign trips in the coming months.

Meanwhile the Mexican Government has formally invited the Holy Father to make a sixth visit to the country to attend the World Eucharistic Congress in October.

Interior Secretary Santiago Creel announced the invitation during a meeting on Tuesday with Mexican bishops at a retreat outside of Mexico City. He also said that the country plans to review laws on religious freedom as part of a broader move to strengthen human rights.

The World Eucharistic Congress, held every four years, is a large gathering in which Catholics celebrate their faith and unity. The most recent one was held in Rome.

Creel said that Mexico would receive the pope "with great happiness, as a government, if the Holy Father makes the decision to come to our country." Creel's office distributed a text of his remarks late Tuesday.

Vatican says pope will not make return visit to Rome synagogue (Catholic News Service 20/4/04)
Pope declines invitation to visit Rome's central synagogue ( 20/4/04)
Mexico Invites Pope to October Meeting (Associated Press/Las Vegas Sun 21/4/04)

Pope to Send Cardinal to Synagogue (Associated Press/Yahoo 20/4/04)
Pope Encourages Communion and Liberation on Its 50th Anniversary (Zenit 20/4/04)
Bible Indicates Way to Happiness, Says John Paul II (Zenit 20/4/04)
Path Cleared for 2 New Canonized Saints and 10 Blessed (Zenit 20/4/04)
Bible offers solid, sure guideline of moral behavior, pope says (Catholic News Service 20/4/04)
Christians are prepared for conflicts, Pope says (Catholic World News 21/4/04)
Pope not planning repeat visit to synagogue (Catholic World News 21/4/04)
Inner serenity and peace are achieved through prayer (Vatican Information Service 21/4/04)

22 Apr 2004