VATICAN CITY, JULY 19, 2002 ( John Paul II sent a message of solidarity to the chief rabbi of Rome condemning the desecration of Jewish tombs in a local cemetery.

More than 50 tombs, along with five mausoleums, were damaged in the Verano cemetery, authorities learned Thursday morning. The vandalism included broken marble stones, dislodged Stars of David and split coffins.

Upon receiving the news, the Pope requested that a telegram be sent to Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, expressing his "profound sadness over this detestable gesture that prolongs a series of similar events verified with worrying frequency in Europe and other continents."

In his message, the Holy Father expressed "his spiritual closeness to the families offended in their affection and dignity."

"While firmly condemning such ignoble acts and the anti-Jewish feelings that inspire them," the Pope assures those offended of "his remembrance in prayer, so that the Most High will give consolation to all who suffer and eternal peace to the deceased of this beloved community," reads the telegram, sent by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state.

Among the profaned tombs is that of Rabbi Angelo Sacerdoti, who led the Jewish community during the Fascist period, until 1936.

Police are investigating the case. Political parties and public opinion roundly condemned the vandalism.

Rabbi Di Segni said the desecration was "like the opening of a wound, a grave insult to the memory that is guarded in that place and to all the symbols linked to it."

The vandalism occurred on the day that Jews recall the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, a "coincidence that causes even greater pain," the rabbi said.

He said the recent attacks against Jewish communities in Europe "are directly linked, in a cause-effect relation, to the tension in the Middle East."

"Many of the acts that have taken place, for example, in France, are directly linked to local tension and to the presence of extremist fringes of the population of Arab origin, who have wished to take the conflict also to the local level," the rabbi said.