VATICAN CITY, MAY 10, 2001 ( The Vatican´s spokesman denied allegations that John Paul II´s trip to the Golan Heights during his pilgrimage was politically motivated.

Spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls listed some of the highlights of the just-completed papal pilgrimage in the footsteps of St. Paul.

"First of all," he said, "there is what some have described as the ´miracle of Athens,´ followed by the visit to the mosque, and then by the prayer in the city of Quneitra, although some have tried to politicize" the latter.

With reference to Greece, Navarro-Valls revealed the contents of a brief letter that Orthodox Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens sent the Pope after his visit.

"Your Holiness, as you leave Athens, after a brief but fruitful visit, I would like to express my feelings of gratitude to you," the primate of the Greek Church wrote in French. "You have given us the opportunity to accompany you on your journey in the Apostle Paul´s footsteps. May our Lord Jesus Christ reinforce our will and commitment to an increasingly mature reciprocal understanding."

"This letter, and the joint recitation of the Our Father by the Pope and Christodoulos, allowed us to think at times that the lack of full communion had disappeared," Navarro-Valls said.

A second highlight of the papal tour was the visit to the Damascus mosque, an event which brought to mind the Pope´s trip to the synagogue in Rome, 15 years ago, Navarro-Valls explained. He added, however: "Obviously, the ties with Islam and Judaism are different."

Between Sunday and Thursday, John Paul II received messages from non-Arab Muslim countries. Navarro-Valls said the letters all expressed, more or less, the same idea: "Today, correspondence was established between the visit to the synagogue and [the visit] to the mosque."

Lastly, the director of the Vatican Press Office mentioned the visit to the ghost city of Quneitra in the Golan Heights.

"There was an attempt to politicize this moment of the trip," Navarro-Valls said. "Frankly, it is a scandalous idea, no matter where it came from. The Pope only went there to pray, and he prayed for all peoples of the region. Fortunately, world public opinion understood that it was a religious, not a political, act, both in intention as well as in fact."

The spokesman was then asked if Vatican-Israeli relations would deteriorate, given the criticisms from Israeli circles, of the Pope´s failure to respond to the verbal attacks launched by Syrian President Bashar Assad against the Jewish state when the Pontiff arrived in Damascus.

"Why should they deteriorate?" Navarro-Valls said. "If anything, relations between Israel and Syria should deteriorate; the Vatican has nothing to do with it. We were guests there."

He added: "Let it be very clear that, in saying this, I am not defending Assad´s speech, of which, among other things, the Pontiff had no prior knowledge. What I am saying is that the Pope responded by enunciating international principles that apply to all."