DAMASCUS, Syria, March 14 (AP) - A joint Christian-Muslim prayer service planned outside a historic mosque during Pope John Paul II's May visit to Syria has been canceled, a Syrian archbishop said Wednesday.

``The upcoming visit of John Paul to the Omayyad Mosque will be done as a historical visit. The visit will be only a silent look and a short visit to the tomb of St. John the Baptist,'' Archbishop Isidore Battikha told the official Syrian news agency, SANA.

Battikha, who heads the committee preparing for the pope's visit, had said earlier this month that there would be a joint prayer outside the mosque during the pope's visit. He did not explain why the plan had been canceled.

Battikha said the pontiff will meet Syria's mufti Ahmad Kuftaro in the mosque's courtyard ``to boost brotherly relations between Muslims and Christians. The pope will address Muslims in Syria and the world; ... Kuftaro will reply in a similar speech.''

No pope has ever before entered a mosque but John Paul has already been a pioneer in inter-religious contacts. He was the first pope to enter a synagogue, with his visit to Rome's main synagogue in 1986.

The Omayyad Mosque stands on ground that has been holy since at least the ninth century B.C., when a people called the Aramaeans built a temple to their god Hadad. When the Romans ruled the region, the site was used as a temple to their god Jupiter. After the Roman Emperor Constantine ordered an end to the persecution of Christians in the fourth century, the temple became a church dedicated to St. John the Baptist.

Christians who believe St. John's head is kept in a casket entombed in the mosque regularly visit what is one of the world's most popular Muslim pilgrimage sites.

Pope John Paul, who has been visiting Biblical sites in recent years, is expected in Syria on May 5 on a tour that will include the Mediterranean island of Malta.

The travels of the apostle St. Paul took him to both Malta and Syria.

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