Pope Eases Back On Schedule

Pope John Paul II gestures during a meeting with Bulgarian President Georgy Parvanov (not pictured) in Sofia on May 24, 2002. Pope John Paul pays homage to Bulgaria's 1,100-years-old Orthodox Culture on Friday as he pushes on with a trip that is a stern test of his increasingly frail physique. REUTERS

The statement may appear to be merely bowing to the obvious, but for the Vatican to even suggest that Pope John Paul II's health may be failing is a major step. Which is why they took it in a roundabout way, reports CBS News correspondent Allen Pizzey.

As he capped his 96th foreign trip with a beatification mass, a Vatican spokesman said a Papal visit to Toronto in July would go ahead as planned, but stops in Mexico and Guatemala were uncertain.

"Everything that has been confirmed is confirmed," Joaquin Navarro-Valls said, adding: "Something that has been confirmed can be unconfirmed."

Ravaged by Parkinson's disease and hobbled by arthritis, John Paul II has already cut back on activities. On this latest trip to Azerbaijan and Bulgaria, he read only the first and last paragraph of his speeches. An aide filled in the rest.

Vatican officials insist the Pope's physical limitations are not an obstacle to his message or his mission. John Paul II, they say,is very much in charge, very much the driving force. But he must now be pushed on a wheeled platform, his stamina very much a concern.

Those close to the Pope are adamant that the physical frailty is misleading.

"His memory, his capacity for planning the future, his sense of humour, everything of this is absolutely intact," said Navarro-Valls, the papal spokesman.

The main aim of this effort in Bulgaria was to narrow the 1,000-year-old split between the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

The warm reception from a population that is 80 percent Orthodox, and the rare presence of Orthodox priests at a Catholic mass, were seen as indications of success.

But how much more John Paul II can do to bring the churches together is more open to question than ever.
  • Dan Collins

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