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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 October, 2003, 22:40 GMT 23:40 UK
Catholic world waits for Pope news

By Peter Gould

Roman Catholics around the world are being prepared for the death of the Pope.

After years of medical problems, the health of John Paul II is now causing serious concern, and not just within the Vatican.

Pope John Paul II
The Pope suffers from Parkinson's Disease and arthritis
For the first time, a senior cleric has used the word "dying" in referring to the deteriorating condition of the 83-year-old pontiff.

Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn said he did not know how close the Pope was to death, but he was "approaching the last days and months of his life".

Cardinal Schoenborn, the Archbishop of Vienna, is often spoken of as a future pope.

He must have been aware of the effect of his words on the world's one billion Catholics, who have watched the sudden decline of the Pope with alarm.

This week one of the most senior members of the Church urged people to pray for the ailing pope.

He must have been aware of the effect of his words on the world's one billion Catholics
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger is based at the Vatican, and is one of the pontiff's closest advisers.

He was quoted as saying John Paul II was in "a bad way".

The words flashed around the world on the news wires, prompting new speculation that this papacy is now in its final days.

However, the Pope's private secretary tried today to play down the reports.

"Yesterday Cardinal Ratzinger was in tears," said Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz.

"In fact, he did not release any interview. He just told a journalist who stopped him on the streets, if the Pope is sick, pray for him."

Health fears intensify

The cardinal may not have wanted to create anxiety, but many Catholics will now be fearing bad news.

However, the Pope was able to appear in St Peter's Square for his weekly audience.

He was applauded by thousands of pilgrims, many of them moved to tears by his appearance.

Concern over the Pope's health has intensified in recent years.

He now tires quickly during public appearances. His words are often slurred, and he often has trouble completing speeches.

His trip to Poland last year was widely seen as a final visit to his homeland, a chance to bid his people farewell.

As he boarded the plane for his return journey to Rome, many Poles were in tears, convinced they would not see him again.

Under church law it would be possible for him to resign, but it is centuries since a pope left office voluntarily
Vatican aides finally persuaded him to scale down his overseas trips, but the Pope made it clear that he had no intention of standing down.

Under church law it would be possible for him to resign, but it is centuries since a pope left office voluntarily.

The last to do so was Celestine V in 1294.

The Pope's attitude is that God gave him the job, and it is God who will decide when his mission is complete.

And despite his frailty and his pain, he has no intention of hiding himself away inside the Vatican.

Apart from the effects of Parkinson's disease, the Pope suffers from severe arthritis, which means he now has to make all his public appearances on a wheeled throne.

Punishing schedule

The coming month will be a further strain on his health.

The 25th anniversary of his election is being marked by a series of public events at the Vatican.

He is due to preside over a beatification ceremony for Mother Teresa, which is expected to draw a huge crowd to St Peter's Square.

Then there is a ceremony to bestow red hats on 30 new cardinals.

It is a punishing schedule for a sick man, but John Paul II has made it clear he will not stop until his dying breath.




SEE ALSO:
Pope cancels weekly audience
24 Sep 03  |  Europe
Ailing Pope ends Slovak visit
14 Sep 03  |  Europe
Profile: Pope John Paul II
02 Oct 03  |  Europe
Pope's litany of health problems
02 Oct 03  |  Europe


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