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John Paul II leaves for Italian alps summer vacation

Pope John Paul II has travelled to Val d'Aosta in the Italian Alps for his annual summer vacation.

It marks the ninth time the Holy Father has chosen Les Combes as his vacation spot. He took to the place, surrounded by Monts Blanc, Rosa and Cervino, when he stayed there for the first time in 1990.

"I love these mountains; up here one breathes with the pure mountain air the mysterious invitation to faith and conversion," he said on that occasion.

From yesterday's commencement of the vacation through until Friday next week, he will enjoy his favourite pastimes: excursions by car in the mountains, conversations with lifetime friends, reading, and extended periods of prayer.

The Pope left Rome's Ciampino airport at 10:30 am yesterday, and was welcomed an hour and a half later at a discrete ceremony at St Christophe airport in Aosta.

He has only two public meetings scheduled during his holiday. In addition to a meeting with the priests of Aosta next Sunday, he will greet thousands of local residents and vacationers, from the chalet where he is staying, and recite the Angelus.

The Alpine chalet belongs to the Salesians, who have summer camps for youth in the area. The stone and wood house was built last year with the Holy Father in mind. The Pope's bedroom looks out on Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Europe.

This year a walk has been landscaped within the property. It begins with a statue of the Blessed Virgin and goes into the forest until it reaches a lookout point from where the city of Aosta can be seen, as well as Mount Rosa and Mount Cervino.