Thursday, October 2, 2003; 1:39 PM
By Crispian Balmer
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - A senior European cardinal said on Thursday Pope John Paul was nearing death -- the latest top churchman to ring alarm bells about the state of the 83-year old pontiff's health.
Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn made his comments on the same day the pope's private secretary was trying to play down concerns about the pope's evident frailty.
Pope John Paul, who suffers from Parkinson's Disease and can no longer walk without help, has appeared weaker than normal in recent public appearances and has struggled to speak at times.
"The whole world is experiencing a pope who is sick, handicapped and dying -- I don't know how close to death he is -- who is approaching the last days and months of his life," Schoenborn told Austrian radio.
Later Schoenborn's spokesman, Erich Leitenberger, said the comment was meant "to be seen philosophically" and should not be interpreted literally.
Schoenborn, head of the Catholic Church in Austria and archbishop of Vienna, is seen as a possible successor to the pope, who celebrates the 25th anniversary of his pontificate later this month.
Earlier on Thursday, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, the pope's long-term personal secretary, said recent comments by another senior cardinal about the pope's condition had been taken out of context.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, an influential German prelate who heads the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was quoted as saying by German magazine Bunte that the pope was "in a bad way." He called on the faithful to pray for the pope.
However, Dziwisz said Ratzinger wept when he saw that comments made in the street had been reported in the press.
"Cardinal Ratzinger was crying yesterday," Dziwisz told reporters attending a meeting between the pope and the president of Lithuania at the Vatican. "He didn't give anyone an interview, but when he was stopped by a journalist on the street he went as far as saying: 'If the pope is ill, pray for him,"' he said.
The Vatican has insisted that the pope intends to push ahead with a hectic program of events this month, including the 25th anniversary celebrations, the beatification of Mother Teresa and a ceremony to invest some 30 new cardinals named last Sunday.
The pope told pilgrims at a general audience on Wednesday that "God willing" he would make a brief trip to the southern Italian city of Pompeii next Tuesday to visit a sanctuary there.
At one point in the audience he briefly stopped speaking and a clear look of frustration passed over his face. Seeing him struggling, the large crowd broke into applause to cheer him on and after a pause he continued in his flutey, breathless voice.
The pope had to skip last week's general audience because of an intestinal disorder.
Earlier this week, French Archbishop Philippe Barbarin, who was among the batch of newly appointed cardinals, told French radio: "The pope is in really bad shape."
Dziwisz urged reporters on Thursday not to overdramatise John Paul's frailty. He said much that had been written over the years had ultimately proved false, and with a smile added: "Some journalists who in recent years have spoken and written a lot about the pope's health are already in heaven."
Things shouldnt be
hidden. This pope is very ill. ... But I assure you, the church
BISHOP STANISLAS LALANE
VATICAN CITY, Oct. 2 One of Europes top cardinals said Thursday that Pope John Paul II was nearing the last days and months of his life, the first ranking prelate to say the 83-year-old pontiff is dying.
WITH JOHN PAUL visibly weaker in recent weeks, concern over his health has been growing. Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn was the second leading prelate this week to express alarm over the popes health.
The entire world is experiencing a pope who is sick, who is disabled and who is dying I dont know how near death he is who is approaching the last days and months of his life, Schoenborn, who is the archbishop of Vienna, told Austrian state broadcaster ORF.
Schoenborn is considered a possible candidate for the papacy. His spokesman, Erich Leitenberger, later told The Associated Press the comments were to be interpreted philosophically.
Since the mid-1990s, John Paul has been battling Parkinsons disease, a progressive neurological disorder, as well as crippling knee and hip ailments.
The Vatican, which generally refrains from commenting on the popes health, declined to respond to the Austrian cardinals remarks.
However, two Vatican cardinals and one of John Pauls closest aides the secretary who joined him from Poland when he assumed the papacy 25 years ago sought to minimize concern about the pontiffs well-being.
Monsignor Stanislaw Dziwisz, promoted to archbishop by John Paul on Monday as a sign of gratitude, took the unusual step of talking to reporters about the popes health as the pontiff was meeting with the president of Lithuania.
Asked about the state of the popes health, Dziwisz referred to comments this week attributed by a German magazine to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger that John Paul was in a bad way and that the faithful should pray for him.
Cardinal Ratzinger was crying yesterday, explaining that he never gave an interview but merely answered someone he met on the street, saying, If the pope is sick, pray for him, Dziwisz said.
Many journalists who in the past have written about the popes health are already in heaven, Dziwisz added.
The pope looked relaxed and alert during his meeting with President Rolandas Paksas, which lasted 15 minutes and was one of four appointments on the popes schedule Thursday.
Despite his frail condition, John Paul has one of the busiest periods in his papacy ahead of him. He makes a day trip Tuesday to a shrine in Pompeii and then takes part in celebrations the following week marking the 25th anniversary of his papacy.
The Vatican announced Tuesday the pope will also preside over the ceremony elevating the 31 new cardinals he named Sunday, saying it will be held Oct. 21 on the steps of St. Peters Basilica. The following day, he will preside at a Mass with the cardinals in St. Peters Square.
Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, head of the Congregation of the Causes of Saints, said Thursday the popes trip to Pompeii next week shows there is no reason for alarm.
I think that the pope and all of us are in the hands of God, he told the ANSA news agency. To my mind, this alarmism should really be re-thought.
Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, head of the Congregation of Bishops, said he ate with John Paul on Thursday.
The pope is well, given the problems that are there for everyone to see, he said, according to the AGI news agency. He has difficulty moving and pronouncing words. But he is a very strong man, and above all is very lucid; he has a clear vision of the world and of the church.
John Paul looked alert and spirited throughout his two-hour general audience Wednesday. He skipped the traditional audience the previous week because of what the Vatican described as an intestinal ailment.
In Paris on Wednesday, the head of the governing body for the Catholic Church in France said John Paul is very ill but still able to lead.
Things shouldnt be hidden. This pope is very ill, Bishop Stanislas Lalane said on Europe-1 radio. But I assure you, the church is governed.
Thursday 11th September 2003
Five thousand policemen and 500 bodyguards have been deployed in Slovakia to guard the Pope, after authorities received a warning the pontiff would be killed on the visit.
Police with bomb-sniffing dogs have been sweeping through churches and authorities have said they are investigating the warning.
Pope John Paul II has just embarked on the four-day tour, his third visit to the country..
Slovakia's president and prime minister and cheering well-wishers waving small Vatican flags greeted the pope as his plane touched down at Bratislava's airport.
Among the crowd were gay and lesbian activists protesting what they contend is a growing intrusion of the church in public and private life.
John Paul, who suffers from Parkinson's disease and crippling hip and knee ailments, has appeared short of breath and his voice has been weak during recent public appearances. He has remained seated in a throne-like chair wheeled by aides.
Organisers are expecting up to half a million to attend open-air papal Masses in the capital, Bratislava, the central city of Banska Bystrica and the eastern city of Roznava.
07 Jun 2003, 12:12 UTC
The Vatican is downplaying an e-mail threat to attack Pope John Paul II during his trip to Croatia. On Friday, two Croatian news agencies say they received a message from a group threatening to assassinate the pope, who is in the middle of a five-day visit to Croatia.
Authorities say the message was signed by a group calling itself the "Islamic Front of el-Mujahadeen." Croatian authorities are investigating, and say the e-mail appears to have come from neighboring Bosnia.
Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro Valls said Saturday, it is not unusual for the church to receive information about threats against the pope. But he adds that such information in the past has been, "very doubtful or proven to be completely false." The spokesman says the Vatican will pass along all relevant information about the threat to authorities.
Security was tight Saturday, as Pope John Paul celebrated an outdoor Mass in the city of Osijek, which is still recovering and struggling with ethnic tensions following more than a decade of war. More than 150,000 pilgrims attended the Mass.
Two pilgrims attending the service died of heart attacks and several others became ill due to the sweltering heat, with temperatures soaring to 38 degrees. This is John Paul's third visit to Croatia as head of the Roman Catholic Church, and the landmark 100th trip abroad of his 25-year papacy. He is scheduled to return to the Vatican on Monday.
On Friday in the coastal town of Dubrovnik, the pope beatified a Croatian nun, who founded a religious order in 1920 and devoted her life to helping the poor and the sick. The pontiff's next scheduled trip is to Bosnia and Herzegovina, on June 22. He also hopes to travel to Mongolia in August, if his health permits.
Pope John Paul suffers from Parkinson's disease and other ailments that limit his mobility and affect his speech, but he has appeared more robust in recent months. The Vatican attributes the pope's improved stamina to physical therapy and increased rest.
07 Jun 2003, 15:42 UTC
Pope John Paul II celebrated an outdoor Mass in Croatia Saturday, in sweltering weather that was blamed for the deaths of two pilgrims. Temperatures soared to 38 degrees Celsius at an airfield in the eastern town of Osijek, forcing dozens of people to seek medical aid.
About 200,000 people attended the pope's liturgy in a region that is still struggling with ethnic tensions after the war of the 1990s. This is John Paul's third visit to Croatia as head of the Roman Catholic Church, and the landmark 100th trip abroad of his 25-year papacy. He is scheduled to return to the Vatican on Monday.
The mass came one day after two Croatian news agencies say they received a message from a group threatening to assassinate the pope. Authorities say the message was signed by a group calling itself the "Islamic Front of el-Mujahadeen."
A Vatican spokesman said it is not unusual to receive threats against the pope, and said all relevant information is passed on to the authorities The pontiff's next scheduled trip is to Bosnia and Herzegovina, on June 22. He also hopes to travel to Mongolia in August, if his health permits.
Friday, 14 February, 2003, 01:25 GMT
By David Willey
BBC Rome correspondent
Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz will meet Pope John Paul at the Vatican on Friday to ask the Pontiff to try to use his influence to dissuade the Americans from attacking Baghdad.
The Pope, who opposed the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq, has warned that another war would be a defeat for humanity.
Most Italians are opposed to an American-led war, despite the support offered to President Bush by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Tariq Aziz spent the first day of his Rome visit meeting Italian opposition leaders, who are strongly anti-war. He is aiming for maximum publicity for his peace mission to Italy.
The Vatican is giving him red carpet treatment, for the Iraqi deputy leader is a member of his country's small Christian minority, not a Muslim.
The Pope has frequently condemned the suffering caused to the people of Iraq by the United Nations economic embargo.
The Italian prime minister, in contrast, is uncomfortable at the presence of Saddam Hussein's deputy here this weekend.
Silvio Berlusconi will not be seeing the Iraqi official, although Mr Aziz is scheduled to have a meeting with Franco Fratini, the Italian Foreign Minister.
Predictably, Mr Aziz has been stressing his country's co-operation with UN weapons inspectors and playing down the importance of the new discovery of short-range missiles.
A big anti-war demonstration is planned in Rome on Saturday. Mr Aziz will not attend - instead he will be travelling to Assisi, where there will be another peace march and he will pray at the shrine of St Francis.
Mr Aziz's visit to Italy is being masterminded by a French priest called Father Benjamin, who runs a peace foundation in Assisi.
Wednesday, 12 February, 2003, 17:41 GMT
Cardinal Roger Etchegaray has said he has been assured he will be given an opportunity to meet Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
The envoy was sent to Baghdad by Pope John Paul II to deliver a personal message from the head of the Roman Catholic Church.
But no date has yet been set for the meeting, Cardinal Etchegaray said. He held talks with two of Saddam's key deputies - Taha Yassin Ramadan and Tariq Aziz - on Wednesday, the day after arriving in the Iraqi capital from Rome.
"I can assure you that I will see President Saddam Hussein and will deliver to him" the Pope's message, Cardinal Etchegaray said.
He described his meeting with Mr Ramadan and Mr Aziz as "in itself a sign of the interest that we both have in listening to each other, in hearing each other, in listening to points of view which all converge on a just peace".
"During this meeting... we saw the importance for... a climate of reciprocal confidence between all, based on facts," he said.
Mr Ramadan said he had described to the papal envoy how Iraq was co-operating with United Nations demands for it to allow inspectors to check its claims that it had no banned weapons.
Cardinal Etchegaray said the co-operation was "a good sign" and said Iraq was showing "a desire for dynamic peace".
The Pope decided to intervene in the crisis earlier this month. His aides say he is profoundly concerned over the possibility of war and the effects conflict would have on the Iraqi people, 3% of whom are Catholics.
Though retired, Cardinal Etchegaray remains an important behind-the-scenes figure in the Vatican. He has travelled to the Middle East on Vatican business numerous times before.
February 11, 2003
Democrats.com (excerpted from latimes.com [Los Angeles Times] article)
Pope John Paul II has sent his envoy, retired Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, to Iraq. In one of his messages, the pontiff has requested permission to visit to personally visit Iraq. "I am coming to encourage the Iraqi authorities to cooperate with the United Nations on the basis of international law," the cardinal said. War is the last solution," he said, "and the worst solution." Cardinal Etchegaray will meet with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Azziz, a member of Iraq's Chaldean which has connections to Rome. Azziz will be traveling later this week for a private audience with the Pope in Italy.
Sunday, November 10, 2002
LONDON A top Al Qaeda official suspected of having planned the Sept. 11 terror attacks also plotted to kill Pope John Paul II during a trip to the Philippines in 1999, a British newspaper reported Sunday.
Quoting documents from Philippines intelligence services, The Sunday Times said Usama bin Laden's lieutenant, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, planned on killing the pope with a pipe bomb planted in a park where John Paul was to speak, or if that failed, with high-velocity rifles equipped with laser scopes.
The plot was aborted when the pope's visit was canceled, the newspaper said.
Philippines police have already named Mohammed as the prime suspect behind a 1995 plot to kill the pope in the southeast Asian nation. Abdul Hakim al Hashim Murad, a Pakistani, was arrested in Manila in 1995 for his alleged involvement in that plan.
Mohammed evaded capture but returned to the Philippines four years later, months before the pope was due to visit Manila for a canonization, The Sunday Times said.
The newspaper quoted the intelligence documents as saying Mohammed might be in Pakistan but warning that "he may attempt to leave the country to elude arrest as well as conduct terrorist activities."
June 5, 2002
VATICAN (CNN) -- Pope John Paul II has been caught up in a bomb alert after a man threatened to blow himself up at the Vatican.
The man, who is believed to be mentally unstable, was reported to have phoned a local television station warning that he was about to carry out a bombing at St Peter's Square on Wednesday. The 45-year-old Italian was arrested carrying a hoax bomb -- empty tubes with dangling wires -- after shouting accusations against local politicians, Reuters news agency quoted police as saying.
The pope was holding his weekly general audience at the time, but it is not known how close he was to the incident.
The suspect, who police say has a history of psychological problems, was believed to have been protesting at corruption in his native southern Italy.
He had told the TV station that he was about to blow himself up outside the Vatican post offices in the square, but in fact he made his way to another part where pilgrims were queuing. The man was screaming out that he wanted to meet journalists and magistrates to talk about the alleged corruption.
Police sealed off the area and temporarily stopped the flow of pilgrims into the square before preparations were resumed for the audience.
May 23, 2002 Posted: 2:48 PM EDT (1848 GMT)
SOFIA, Bulgaria (CNN) -- Ailing Pope John Paul II has arrived in Bulgaria for his first papal visit to the country, where all its 27,000 police have been put on duty or standby. It is hoped his four-day visit will heal wounds with the former communist country which was once implicated in the 1981 assassination attempt against the pontiff. The trip is also aimed at bringing a reconciliation of Christianity's eastern and western churches.
The pope praised Christians in largely Orthodox Bulgaria for their resistance to communist-era oppression. The 82-year-old pope, who has looked ever more frail recently, had the strength to make impromptu remarks in Italian after his official speech, thanking Bulgarians for his welcome joking: "The pope is an old man and that's why he is sitting down," while he gestured to Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov, who stood by his side during the arrival ceremony.
He urged Bulgaria to retain Christian values as it undertakes difficult social reforms in the push to convert the still deeply poor ex-communist state to a market economy, Reuters news agency reported. He also remembered the victims of east Europe's authoritarian regimes. "Even during the long winter of the totalitarian system, which brought suffering to your country... numberless children of this people remained heroically faithful to Christ, in not a few cases to the point of sacrificing their lives," the pope said. The hard-line communists who ruled Bulgaria from World War Two to 1989 repressed both majority Orthodox Christians, around 80 percent of the 8 million population, and the 80,000 Roman Catholic minority in the name of atheism.
On arrival in Sofia, the pope was carried down the steps of the plane on a lift and his usual ritual of kissing the tarmac on disembarkation was substituted for his blessing a pot of soil lifted to his lips. He was then ferried to the airport terminal on an electric platform. The tour is likely to be a strain on an ailing pope who has been forced to jettison some of his traditional rituals during the two-country tour of Azerbaijan and Bulgaria.
During the first-stage in Azerbaijan, the pope escaped a security alert when a shouting man on crutches rushed towards the altar where the pope was presiding over mass. Security officials told journalists the man said he wanted to have his picture taken with the pontiff. The situation resolved itself and the man later received a blessing from the pope.
The pope survived an assassination attempt 20 years ago in Rome for which three Bulgarians were tried for suspected complicity in the shooting by a Turk but cleared by the Italian court through lack of evidence. Pope John Paul has said he has "never ceased" to love the Bulgarian people.
Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi is quoted by The Associated Press as calling the visit "a blessing," adding: "This visit will wipe out the undeserved taint Bulgaria has carried for the past 20 years." Helicopters made low sweeps over the capital and army snipers took up positions around the airport as the pope arrived at about 6 p.m. local time on Thursday.
The pontiff, who first visited an Orthodox country in 1999 when he travelled to Romania, is likely to use his Bulgarian trip to renew his call for a reunification of Christianity's eastern and western Churches, which split in 1054.
He is scheduled to visit an Orthodox monastery near the southern town of Rila and hold an outdoor mass in the southeast in Plovdiv, Bulgaria's second-largest city.
As well as meeting Patriarch Maxim on Friday, the pope will also meet leaders of the one million Bulgarian Muslims and the country's tiny Jewish community, which numbers between 7,000 and 8,000, some of whom worship at the world's largest Sephardic synagogue in Sofia.
He also plans to beatify three Roman Catholic priests who were executed in 1952 after being convicted of spying by the then communist regime.
The pope arrived in Bulgaria from the Azerbaijani capital of Baku after a two-day trip during which he gave mass for all 120 of the country's registered Roman Catholics -- mostly expatriates.
Apr. 30, 2002
By The Associated Press
VATICAN CITY - Pope John Paul II will meet with Muslim, Jewish and Orthodox Christian leaders during a May 22-26 trip to Azerbaijan and Bulgaria, stops intended to promote religious tolerance.
The pope will spend one night in Azerbaijan, a mainly Muslim former Soviet republic of 7.5 million people with a Catholic population of only 120, according to details of the trip released today by the Vatican. While there, the pope will meet with the Muslim leader of the Caucasus region, the local Orthodox bishop and the head of the Jewish community.
A highlight of the stop in Bulgaria will be a meeting with Patriarch Maxim and other Orthodox leaders May 24. The Orthodox Church was originally opposed to the visit, but then changed its position.
John Paul has visited several Orthodox countries but has been blocked from visiting Russia because of opposition by the Orthodox leadership. They accuse the Vatican of seeking to expand its influence in traditional Orthodox lands in eastern Europe.
Meetings with Muslim, Jewish and Protestant representatives are also on the schedule in Bulgaria.
The pope plans to beatify three Catholic priests who were executed in 1952 after being convicted of spying. Bulgaria was under communist rule at that time and the Vatican declared last week that the three were martyrs of the faith.
John Edwards for NewsMax
Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2002
Pope John Paul II is planning to visit New Yorks Ground Zero this summer, NewsMax has learned from sources close to the Catholic Church.
The decision has raised serious security concerns, because New York remains a target city and the pope, the most significant Christian leader, is believed to be a target for Muslim extremists.
This July the pope is scheduled to travel to Toronto for the annual World Youth Day jamboree, an event he attends each year. The Archdiocese of New York has already informed New York authorities that the pope wishes to visit the World Trade Center site.
But the news is not being welcomed in all quarters because some officials fear that a planned papal visit may lead hundreds of thousands of Catholic faithful to pour into Manhattan, creating a potential terrorist target.
A source close to the Church tells NewsMax that the pope may make an impromptu visit to New York en route from Toronto to Mexico. The pope is expected to travel to Mexico, where he plans to preside over the canonization of Juan Diego, a Mexican to whom Catholics say the Virgin Mary appeared as Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Nov. 20, 2001 (ABCNEWS.com) -- Amid concerns Osama bin Laden could strike again between Thanksgiving and Christmas, already tight security around Pope John Paul II is being further heightened. Former CIA counterterrorism chief Vince Cannistraro, an ABCNEWS consultant, told an Italian newspaper this weekend that bin Laden was virtually certain to attempt another attack over the holidays. Cannistraro, who also advises the Vatican on security, said the pope has been and remains a prime target for bin Laden. "He looks at the pope as the symbolic head of the crusaders and a natural target," Cannistraro says.
But for a series of missteps, authorities believe a plot against the pope would have been carried out six years ago. As the pope prepared for a visit to the Philippines in 1995, bin Laden's operatives scrambled to get into place for an attack. But authorities say the plot was aborted one week before the pope arrived when bin Laden's men accidentally set fire to their apartment in Manila while mixing chemicals for a bomb.
Some of the men later caught admitted the pope was to be the target of a suicide bomber, and identified the mastermind as top bin Laden lieutenant Ramzi Youseff. "Youseff's safe house was found with a lot of clerical robes, a map, a diagram of the pope's itinerary," Cannistraro says. "It was clear they were planning to kill the pope." Youseff was captured in Pakistan later that year. He was brought back to the United States, where he is serving life in prison for masterminding the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and a 1994 airplane bombing.
As authorities throughout Europe search for bin Laden's terrorist cells that remain active, investigators say the threat is real. "I am quite sure that there are still some of them in Italy," says Rodolfo Ronconi, an Interpol official in Italy. There is official concern the pope, even behind the heavily guarded walls of Vatican City, could again be a target in the coming holiday season, particularly given the increasing military pressure on bin Laden.
"I think al Qaeda wants to be seen as up and fighting in spite of the enormous setbacks that they have been suffering," says Tana de Zulueta, a senator in Rome. The Vatican has sought to play down suggestions the pope could again be a target, and bin Laden has no mention of the pope in any recent statements.
Even so, Italian officials say there has been enhanced security at the Vatican since Sept. 11, some seen and some unseen -- including undercover police in priests' robes. Authorities also say that, for the last two weeks, there has been an intensive effort to inspect trucks entering Rome, particularly near Vatican City. And there remain fears al Qaeda, which is believed to have destroyed the World Trade Center this year after bombing it first in 1993, might want to finish in Rome what it started six years ago in Manila.
"They have shown they take a different approach to time," de Zulueta says. "They don't mind waiting years if necessary. It's obvious he is the kind of target that would be a very powerful symbol."