The Vatican is postponing the departure of a Catholic church delegation to Syria, citing the "gravity of the situation" in the country wracked by civil war.

The church delegates are to express the pope's solidarity with the people of Syria and his "spiritual closeness" with the Christian community.

The Vatican's No. 2 official, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, said Tuesday the delegation, which had been expected to depart for Damascus this week, will leave at a date still to be decided. He said the composition of the group will also be changed, but gave no details.

Originally the group was to consist of seven church officials, including New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan and the Holy See's top official for inter-religious dialogue, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran.