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Last Updated: Saturday, 13 September, 2003, 13:43 GMT 14:43 UK
Frail Pope cheered in Slovakia
Pope John Paul II
The Pope suffers from Parkinson's Disease and arthritis
The ailing health of Pope John Paul II was again evident as the 83-year-old pontiff said mass in eastern Slovakia.

Tens of thousands of people turned out to cheer the Pope as he arrived for an open-air mass on a hillside near Roznava.

But it was left to the Pope's aides to read his homily as he again appeared tired.

The visit is the last foreign trip of the year for the Pope, who suffers from Parkinson's disease and arthritis.

Anxious

The Pope also met a pair of formerly conjoined twins, who were presented to him by Slovakia's Roman Catholic bishops.

The three-year-olds were used to drive home the pro-life message, in a country which under Communism used abortion as a means of contraception.

Thousands of people cheered as the pontiff arrived for a wind-swept open-air mass in Roznava, 400 kilometres (250 miles) east of Bratislava.

The crowd included many from the Pope's homeland in nearby southern Poland, anxious to see him on what many fear may be his last visit away from Rome.

During the mass an obviously weak Pope sounded short of breath.

It was left to a Slovak cardinal to read most of the homily to help conserve the Pope's strength.

Head slumped

At the start of his trip on Thursday the Pope's weak state meant aides helped him finish his two speeches.

He seemed to speak more clearly and firmly on Friday, but by Saturday was evidently weakening once more.

His head slumped as dozens of Polish flags waved at him.

Speaking in a frail voice he said: "Your turnout and singing has pleased my heart."

The pontiff is approaching the 25th anniversary of his election to head of the Roman Catholic Church next month.

Women in traditional costumes sing prior to a mass celebrated by the pope in Roznava, Slovakia
Thousands turned out for the mass
His sermon touched on the abortion issue, in which he called for Europeans to stay true to traditional family values in the face of liberal abortion laws and growing legal recognition of homosexual unions.

The mass also served to highlight the current debate over the planned tightening of Slovakia's abortion laws.

The presentation of the twins was to demonstrate the joy their mother would have missed had she resorted to an abortion.

"The Lord said, "Thou shalt not kill," and the church can never let this go. It's God's law," said Archbishop Jan Sokol.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Brian Barron
"The pontiff is now totally dependent on his entourage"



SEE ALSO:
'Stronger' pope stirs Slovaks
12 Sep 03  |  Europe
Pope presses EU on constitution
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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