Ailing Pope Starts Holy Week Rites; Will Dedicate Good Friday Ceremonies to Victims of War
VATICAN CITY (AFP) Pope John Paul II, battling Parkinsons disease, arthritis and a spirit wearied by war in Iraq, begins a demanding round of ceremonies yesterday marking the most solemn week of the Christian calendar.
The Holy Week ceremonies have become something of an annual benchmark of the Pope's declining health in recent years.
Now almost 83, John Paul II has finally succumbed to pressure from his aides to use a specially adapted wheelchair which will avoid him having to stand while celebrating mass.
Catholics following the events live on television last year saw the ailing Pope struggle, clearly in great physical distress due to a combination of age and ill-health, particularly during the Good Friday commemoration of Christ's crucifixion.
This year, with the aid of the wheelchair, he is expected to be able to celebrate mass in the same untroubled fashion he did on Palm Sunday.
At the same stage last year, concerns for his failing health grew when he sat out the mass marking the beginning of holy week for the first time in his pontificate.
Unlike previous Easters, the head of the Roman Catholic Church was unable to participate actively in a traditional feetwashing ceremony on Holy Thursday and to carry a cross during Good Friday's Stations of the Cross.
The previous year, the Pope was well enough to take part in the final stage of the ceremony at Rome's ancient Colosseum.
Recently, however, John Paul II's ailments appear more spiritual than physical. He was particularly pained by the war in Iraq that he struggled to prevent, and was said by aides to be "very disappointed and very sad," when the conflict broke out.
The pope, who has repeatedly said that "all war is a defeat for mankind", has been one of the war's most vociferous opponents.
The Vatican said earlier this month that he would dedicate the Good Friday Stations of the Cross to the victims of the war.
The pope told pilgrims at his general audience on Wednesday that the solemn holy week "invites us to recognize the Passion of Christ in the tragic situations facing many peoples today.
Despite his physical ailments, John Paul II has appeared to be in remarkably good form recently.
Last Friday, his voice was strong and sure as he led a celebration in St Peter's Square for tens of thousands of youths from Rome and the surrounding province of Lazio, ahead of the 18th world youth day celebrations. …