Fri, Oct 17, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Faithful, fans help pope celebrate 25 years

SILVER SHADOWS Church officials gathering in Rome wanted to banish notions they were preparing the ground for the ailing Pope John Paul's succession


Cardinals and bishops wait for the arrival of Pope John Paul II before the weekly general audience at St Peter's square in the Vatican City on Wednesday.


Pope John Paul II, clinging to the remnants of a once robust health, reached a milestone yesterday as he celebrated the 25th anniverary of his election as pope.

The frail 83-year-old pontiff concelebrated mass with the multicolored ranks of the Catholic Church hierarchy in St Peter's Square that was expected to be attended by tens of thousands of faithful.

The mass was due to begin at 6pm (1600 GMT), around the time a puff of white smoke over the Vatican announced the election of Polish cardinal Karol Wojtyla a quarter of a century ago.

President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi paid homage to the pontiff as a "voice for peace" in a nationwide television address to Italians late Wednesday, as warm tributes poured in from other political and religious leaders.

"Your sincere, passionate voice is a vehicle of authentic conviction, of truth," said Ciampi. "It has become the great voice for peace, for the universal theme of all human dignity."

In Warsaw, President Aleksander Kwasniewski said the Polish pope's 25-year reign had changed the world.

The pope "has shown himself not only a man of the Church, but also a great humanist and one who has been able to make reality of visions which at first looked only like prophecies."

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder lauded the pope's "political far-sightedness and great sense of responsibility" in a letter.

"You always sought contact, overcame borders and encouraged dialogue, contributing markedly to the defusing of many conflicts and to greater understanding."

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II on Wednesday sent a "brotherly greeting" to the pope, saying he was known throughout the world "as a Christian full of self-denial, a shepherd and head of the biggest Christian church."

Pope John Paul II: Biography

* 1920, May 18 - Born in Wadowice, Poland

* 1946, November 1 - Ordained a priest

* 1964 - Resident archbishop of Krakow

* 1967 - Elevated to cardinal

* 1978, October 16 - Elected to succeed Pope John Paul I. He was the first Polish pope and the first non-Italian pope since Pope Adrian VI in 1522.

* He has presided at 138 beatification ceremonies (1,310 blesseds proclaimed), 48 canonization ceremonies (469 saints proclaimed), eight consistories (201 cardinals created) and 15 Synods of Bishops.

* He has made 38 official visits, had 690 audiences and meetings with heads of state and 226 with prime ministers.


The two religious leaders have repeatedly sparred over the rights of Roman Catholics in Russia and Orthodox accusations of Vatican proselytism.

Cardinals from around the world gathered in the Vatican Wednesday to mark the 25th anniversary with a congress examining the state of the Catholic Church.

But senior prelates attempted to banish any notion they were preparing the ground for his succession as premature.

"This is really a time of celebration," said Cardinal Roger Mahony, the archbishop of Los Angeles. "We're here to celebrate the Holy Father."

He told a news conference that any talk of the next conclave -- which will eventually select the pope's successor -- was "premature".

In time "the Holy Spirit will lead us in the right direction" to choose a new head of the Roman Catholic Church.

With 31 new cardinals to be formally elevated by the pope next week, Mahony suggested the body -- which will be formally expanded to include 135 voting members -- would need "a long period of time ... to assess where the Church is," before picking a new pope.

The mass will be watched closely by Catholics concerned about the pontiff's declining health, and his painful struggle with debilitating Parkinson's disease and arthritis, which have left him almost immobile.

The pope, though sounding hoarse, appeared in reasonably good form at his weekly general audience on Wednesday, showing a marked improvement on his previous public appearance on Monday, when he appeared to lose his voice after a private audience with Uruguay's President Jorge Batlle.

At one point during Wednesday's nearly two-hour ceremony, John Paul II thanked Polish pilgrims in the crowd: "I'm happy to be able to count on your spiritual support."

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