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Thursday, June 17, 1999 Published at 04:40 GMT 05:40 UK

World: Europe

Pope prepares to leave Poland

The Pope is preparing to return to Rome

The Pope is due to leave Poland on Thursday at the end of a gruelling 13-day programme of public duties.

On Wednesday Pope John Paul II visited his home town of Wadowice, a small town near Krakow.

[ image: The visit is thought likely to be the Pope's last to his homeland]
The visit is thought likely to be the Pope's last to his homeland
It was the Pope's third return trip to the town where he was born and went to school since his election in Rome twenty years ago.

He spoke to the crowd in the main square, in front of the church where he once served as altar boy, and referred nostalgically to the warmth of his former family home - a modest, first-floor apartment just around the corner.

The Pope's home is now a museum, which was visited by over a hundred and fifty thousand people last year.

David Willey reports on the Pope's emotional visit to his home town
Before departing for Rome, the pope was to visit the grave of his parents and say a private Mass with a small circle of friends.

Earlier on Wednesday the Pope had travelled to the southern town of Stary Sacz, where he held mass in front of 650,000 people and canonised a 13th century Polish princess.

He had cancelled all engagements on Tuesday after succumbing to what Vatican officials described as a fever "of a vile nature".

[ image: The tour of Poland is the longest the Pope has ever undertaken]
The tour of Poland is the longest the Pope has ever undertaken
Correspondents say the strain of his demanding schedule has begun to show on the Pope, who has looked tired and has been speaking slowly.

On Saturday, he fell and cut his head; the wound required three stitches.

His planned visit to Armenia on Friday has been postponed, as has an appointment scheduled for Sunday, to allow him to recover after the longest of his 87 trips abroad since becoming Pope.

Given his health, officials are saying it could well be his last visit to his homeland.

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