Vatican beefs up IOC contacts, but cautious on Rome bid

VATICAN CITY (AP) The Vatican is beefing up its contacts with the International Olympic Committee but isn't taking sides in Rome's bid for the 2024 Games, which organizers hope will include the marathon winding through St. Peter's Square.

The head of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, is due to travel to IOC headquarters in January, the highest-ranking Vatican official to do so.

The aim is to improve contacts and look toward creating a permanent Vatican-IOC liaison office, said Monsignor Melchor Sanchez de Toca y Alameda, the council's undersecretary.

But he said Thursday the Vatican was loath to get involved in the bidding process, saying it couldn't take sides among cities competing to host the games. He also questioned the feasibility of running the marathon through St. Peter's.

''We can dream about it, it would be a nice sign, but it's technically very difficult,'' he told The Associated Press. ''I think it would be a powerful sign, but the Vatican does not favor any bid. We cannot be seen as being part of Rome.''

Rome is competing against Paris, Los Angeles, Hamburg and Budapest.

Currently, the Rome marathon skirts St. Peter's Square.

Last month, Rome's bid chairman Luca Cordero di Montezemolo told The Associated Press the Eternal City's pitch would involve the marathon winding through the colonnade-rimmed piazza, and along the Tiber River past Rome's synagogue and mosque in a sign of interfaith peace.

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