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Pope Refers to Mortality; Orthodox Tension Aired

May 24, 2003|From Times Wire Reports

VATICAN CITY — Speaking one day after his 83rd birthday, Pope John Paul II said Monday that he is increasingly aware that he is nearing death and that he entrusts himself to divine mercy.

"Yesterday afternoon I finished my 83rd year of life and started my 84th," John Paul told a crowd of Polish pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square.

"I am increasingly aware that the day is drawing near when I will have to present myself to God to account to him for my life," he said, speaking in Polish. "I entrust myself to divine mercy and to the mother of God."

The ailing pope has spoken more often recently about his own mortality but has dismissed suggestions that he step down.

John Paul suffers from Parkinson's disease and painful arthritis of the right knee. But he appears to have gained new strength and vigor in recent weeks.

Earlier, the pope met with Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, who invited him back to Poland. Vatican officials are considering a trip next year.

But the possibility of a trip to Russia and a meeting with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II, which has been under discussion, now seems more doubtful.

This month, Vatican officials announced plans to establish two new dioceses in the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan. That has created new strains in relations with the Orthodox Church.

In a prepared statement, the Moscow Patriarchate said the Vatican had acted "without any consultation" with the Orthodox Church "despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of the Christians of Kazakhstan belong to the canonical jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church on the basis of their own historical choice."

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