Jewish philanthropist Guma Aguiar turned down a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI Monday and headed north with hundreds of thousands of Jews who made their way to the Galilee mountain gravesite of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.

The philanthropist, who reportedly is considering buying the Jerusalem Beitar soccer team, was one of the notables who opened the Lag B'Omer holiday ceremonies at the gravesite of the Mishnaic Sage in the village of Meron.

Aguiar said he “respectfully declined” the invitation to join President Shimon Peres in greeting the pontiff partly in response to criticism of the Vatican voiced by former Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau.

The rabbi slammed the Holy See for its decision to send a delegation to the anti-Semitic United Nations “Durban II” racism conference held recently in Geneva. He also criticized the Vatican delegation for not walking out during the address of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the conference, as had almost all Western democratic nations, as well as Morocco and Jordan.

“I was honored to receive the president’s invitation,” Aguiar said. “But when I realized that Vatican representatives paid respect to this dangerous extremist politician in Geneva by not absenting themselves from the hall, it would have been inappropriate for me to attend [the] event.”

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