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Pope declines invitation to address European Parliament July 21, 2008

The Vatican has declined an invitation for Pope Benedict XVI to address the European Parliament at Strasbourg, according to a report by the London Times.

An online Times report suggests that the Pope's decision not to speak to the European legislators at Strasbourg could reflect "Vatican alarm at what is seen as a drift towards militant secularism." But the Times reports that in a message to leaders at Strasbourg, the Vatican cited only the Pope's busy schedule and his preference to curtail his international travel because of his age.

The Vatican's message applied only to the current year, and the Pontiff might be open to an invitation to address the European legislative body in some future year, informed officials said.

Pope Benedict has been invited to address the Strasbourg parliament twice: in April 2006, when parliamentary speaker René van der Linden met the Pontiff in a private audience; and in March 2007, when a new parliamentary leader, Hans-Gert Pottering, issued the invitation at another private audience.

Pope John Paul II addressed the European Parliament in 1988.

Some Vatican-watchers had speculated that the Holy Father could combine a visit to Strasbourg with his planned visit to Lourdes, France, in September, for the 150th anniversary of the Marian apparitions at the Lourdes shrine. But Lourdes is located in southwest France, while Strasbourg is in the northeast, about 750 miles away.

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