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Last Updated: Friday, 12 September, 2003, 10:53 GMT 11:53 UK
'Stronger' pope stirs Slovaks
Popemobile met by crowds in Banska Bystrica
Followers fear this may be their last chance to see the pope
A seemingly re-invigorated Pope John Paul II has celebrated an outdoor mass in the central Slovakian town of Banska Bystrica in front of thousands of pilgrims.

The crowd included many people from his native Poland crossed the border to see him, waited in the rain for him to arrive in his white popemobile.

Correspondents say the 83-year-old pontiff seemed more alert than on Thursday in the capital Bratislava, when tiredness forced him to abandon his arrival speech.

There is growing concern over the state of his health - the Pope suffers from severe arthritis and Parkinson's disease, and is generally confined to a wheelchair.

However, spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said the visit would continue.

Slovakia is the pontiff's last scheduled trip for this year, but Mr Navarro-Valls said he did not see any "real obstacle" to further travel next year.

Chanting crowd

Up to 150,000 people turned up in the morning drizzle for a mass in the ancient town square.

Flag-waving followers thronged the cobbled streets for what some fear will be their last chance to see the Pope.

The Pope thanked God for allowing him "another apostolic trip in the name of Christ".

The crowd responded with chants of "let the Holy Father live".

The Pope then asked Cardinal Josef Tomko to read the rest of the homily before finishing the last few lines himself.

This is John Paul's third visit to the former communist central European country and his 102nd foreign trip as pontiff.

Only one key public event has been scheduled each day for the Pope.

But he is expected to continue travelling around the country by road and air until his departure on Sunday.


SEE ALSO:
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29 Jun 03  |  Europe
Pope on second Balkan visit
21 Jun 03  |  Europe
Pope receives fruit treatment
02 Sep 02  |  Health
Profile: Pope John Paul II
22 Apr 02  |  Europe


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