Pope Benedict XVI has turned down an invitation to visit the Roman Catholic shrine of Fatima in Portugal later this year, a senior Portuguese church official said in comments published Wednesday.
"The reply was that it would not be possible to schedule the visit in 2007 as the Holy Father, due to his advanced age, limits his travels," Bishop Carlos Azevedo, the spokesman for Portugal's Catholic Episcopal Conference, told daily newspaper Publico.
In November Portuguese church officials invited the 79-year-old pontiff to visit the shrine on October 13, 2007 for the celebrations marking the 90th anniversary the final apparition of the Virgin Mary there to three shepherd children.
The pope will instead send a representative to the celebrations, Bishop Azevedo said.
Pope Benedict XVI's predecessor John Paul II visited the shrine of Fatima, located some 130 kilometres (80 miles) north of Lisbon, three times during his papacy.
He claimed the Virgin of Fatima saved his life after he was shot by a Turkish gunman in St. Peter's Square in 1981.
The attack, on May 13, coincided with the anniversary of the first apparition of the Virgin to the children in 1917.
The shrine, built on the site where the children said they saw the Virgin in a series of apparitions in 1917, draws millions of visitors from around the world each year. More than 100,000 people from dozens of countries routinely attend the annual commemorations of the sightings.
Source: The Nation