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Friday, June 19, 1998 Published at 10:45 GMT 11:45 UK

World: Europe

The most mobile Pope in history

The Popemobile: mobbed in Manila

The BBC's Religious Affairs Reporter Jane Little reports:.

It is hard for many to keep up with this Pope's travel itinerary.

[ image: The Pope met Fidel Castro in Cuba]
The Pope met Fidel Castro in Cuba
Despite ailing health, the 78-year-old John Paul shows no signs of slowing down, determined to preach to as many of the world's one billion Catholics as possible.

He has now visited more than 100 countries and has, according to one estimate, circled the world 27 times in the ground he has covered.

His favourite destination outside of Europe has been Latin America where he has been to every nation.

Many of his visits have been on saint-making missions and to rally the faithful. But he has also shown a consistently political agenda.

On tours of Latin America in the 1980s, he angered many Catholics by appearing to side with the right-wing regimes that many of his priests were fighting against.

[ image: The Pope hits the road in Nigeria]
The Pope hits the road in Nigeria
But his visits to Cuba and Nigeria this year have been much more successful exercises for the Vatican.

His pressure on the Cuban President Fidel Castro to allow more religious freedom didn't have immediate effect.

But it was a publicity coup for a man who after 20 years in power, has raised the political profile of the church, and his own as a champion of human rights.

His third visit to Austria however is a more internal affair; to bring order to a rebellious and disillusioned church.

For his critics, this mission highlights the inconsistencies of a Pope who is far better at preaching human rights to political dictators they say, than accounting for his own authoritarian rule.

The Pope has already announced plans to visit Croatia, Mexico and his native Poland, and hopes to visit Jerusalem and the Holy Land to celebrate the new millennium.

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