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Pope busy on 81st birthday

His body frail but his spirit strong, Pope John Paul II marked his 81st birthday on Friday with a full schedule of audiences and addresses.

The pope had his usual number of audiences on Friday: nine new ambassadors, five Pakistani bishops and 120 members of the European Automobile Manufacturers Association.

His birthday was to be marked by a lunch, including cake, with aides singing the Polish song May You Live 100 Years.

"It's a normal day with a lot of work," said Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls. "The only difference is the messages that are arriving from leaders and ordinary Catholics."

After several years during which the former mountain climber and white-water canoeist appeared to be frustrated by his limitations, the Holy Father seems to have reached an inner peace with his older body.

"I think . . . his tiredness, his apparent frailty, have been accepted and used as a new means for performing his duties," Navarro-Valls said.