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Pope tells young cancer patients he knows how difficult illness can be

Pope John Paul II, who has been hospitalised several times during his papacy, told a group of Polish children who have cancer he understands how tough it is to be sick.

John Paul, 81, has been plagued by health problems for years, including a bowel tumor that was removed by surgery in 1992, difficulties in walking following 1994 hip surgery and symptoms of Parkinson's disease including a hand tremor and slurred speech.

"I know how difficult the experience of illness is, especially for a child," John Paul said Monday in a meeting with 180 young people from his homeland.

He prayed that they be "strong in spirit."

"Even in illness a great good is accomplished both in the sick person and in the hearts of those who are near," John Paul said. Although ailing, John Paul has kept up much of his routine, including long work days at the Vatican and trips abroad. His latest trip comes later this month, to Ukraine.