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Pope's Holy Week schedule unchanged despite health concerns


Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the head of the Vatican press office, has assured reporters that Pope John Paul II is not gravely ill, although he is suffering from severe arthritis pain.

Navarro-Valls-- who was in Milan on Tuesday for the launching of a new book by Italian journalist Vittorio Messori-- made his case simply. "The Pope is doing well," he said. "Otherwise I would not have left Rome."

Fresh concerns about the health of the aging Pontiff have surfaced this week, after John Paul-- for the first time in his pontificate-- failed to celebrate the Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter's Square. The Pope presided at the Mass, remaining in his seat, while Cardinal Camillo Ruini was the main celebrant.

In the schedule for Holy Week activities released by the Vatican last week, the Pope had been listed as the celebrant for the Palm Sunday liturgy. Although no official announcement was made, the last-minute change was attributed to his arthritic knee, which makes it difficult for him to walk or stand for long periods. (The long liturgy for Palm Sunday, which includes the reading of the entire Passion narrative, would have required him to stand for over 2 hours.)

The Vatican has still not announced any change in the Pope's plans for the remainder of Holy Week. He is scheduled to preside at the Chrism Mass in St. Peter's Basilica today, following by the Mass of the Last Supper this evening. He is also scheduled to preside at tomorrow's Good Friday liturgy in the Vatican basilica, the Way of the Cross in the Roman Coliseum, and the Easter Vigil in St. Peter's, before concluding his busy schedule with the Urbi et Orbi message, delivered on the morning of Easter Sunday.

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28 Mar 2002