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The BBC's Jim Fish
"The longest surviving Pope in modern times"
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The BBC's Jane Little
"The most-travelled Pope in history still has his goals"
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The BBC's David Willey in Rome:
"His impact on the Catholic Church has been immense"
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Thursday, 18 May, 2000, 16:35 GMT 17:35 UK
Pope marks 80th birthday
Pope holds open-air audience on Wednesday
Eighty years have taken a heavy physical toll
Celebrations to mark the 80th birthday of Pope John Paul II have been taking place in St Peter's Square in Rome.

The Pope is attending the largest joint celebration of mass ever held - along with thousands of priests, bishops and cardinals, and tens of thousands of faithful.



Truly the Lord prepared an athlete to tirelessly walk the paths of the world

Cardinal Castrillon
In brilliant sunshine, and surrounded by a sea of colour, he said he thanked God for His generosity in giving him more than 50 years of life as a priest.

The ceremony was preceded by a few words from the head of the Vatican's congregation for clergy, Cardinal Dario Castrillon, who said the Pope had won the love and respect of all.

Later, the London Philharmonic Orchestra will perform Haydn's Creation at a concert in his honour in the Vatican's Nervi audience hall.

Special birthday masses are planned for churches throughout Poland, the Pope's homeland, and messages of congratulation have poured in from religious and political leaders around the world.

Even the gunman who tried to kill the Pope in 1981 and is serving a life sentence for attempted murder sent his good wishes.

Ailing health

Pope John Paul is showing his physical frailty - he stoops when he walks and sometimes slurs his speech, though Vatican officials say his mind remains sharp.

He was seriously wounded in the assassination attempt, and is known to be suffering from the degenerative condition, Parkinson's disease.


st peter's square rooftop view
St Peter's Square, the setting for mass
As a consequence, his working days are noticeably shorter than before, and observers say he appears to require the help of large amounts of medication.

He often retires early, and has been known to be in bed by six or seven o'clock in the evening.

The Vatican has dismissed numerous reports of a possible resignation, a move suggested by some liberal Catholics which could potentially leave the Church severely divided.

The American Archbishop, John Foley, said earlier this week that the the pontiff would not retire until God called him.

And the Pope himself has made it clear that retirement is out of the question - this despite that fact that Roman Catholic cardinals are now forced to retire and relinquish their voting rights in papal elections when they reach the age of 80.

While Church law does allow for him to step down, a Pope usually reigns for life. As Supreme Pontiff he has nobody to accept his resignation.

The last Pope to resign willingly was Celestine V, who stepped down in 1294, while Gregory XII reluctantly abdicated in 1415.

Tenacious

Karol Wojtyla has made a greater number of foreign trips than any of his predecessors, visiting more than 120 countries in his 22-year papacy.

He has just returned from a visit to Portugal, and made a landmark tour of the Holy Land in the spring, but is not scheduled to make any more foreign journeys during 2000.

Amongst countries next in line for visits are Russia and China.

Throughout his 80 years, he has been setting records - the most-travelled pope, the first Polish pope, the pope who created more saints than anyone before him.

A BBC religious affairs correspondent says the current papacy has been highly visible and often controversial.

He says that, for the Pope to have reached his 80th birthday is not a record in itself, but it does suggest a rare combination of willpower and tenacity.

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See also:

01 Jan 00 | Europe
Pope's plea for 2000 peace
10 Jan 00 | Asia-Pacific
Bishop in Pope health row
18 May 00 | Europe
Frail pope set on staying put
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