Pope leaves tomorrow for five-day trip to Azerbaijan and Bulgaria
Despite his frail health and advancing years, Pope John Paul II departs Wednesday for Azerbaijan and Bulgaria, a five-day trip intended to improve relations with Muslims and Orthodox Christians.
The Holy Father, who turned 82 on Saturday, has looked increasingly weak in recent weeks, slowed by the symptoms of Parkinson's disease and knee and hip ailments.
"His physical limitations don't weaken his dedication and the force of his ministry," Italian Cardinal Camillo Ruini, one of the pope's closest aides, said yesterday.
Last week, two cardinals said they thought the pope would resign if his health deteriorated to the point that he could no longer govern the church.
The pope will spend two days in Azerbaijan, a mostly Muslim country of 7.5 million people on the Caspian Sea with 120 only Catholics by Vatican count, the smallest Catholic flock of any country on his foreign tours. With no church facility fit for a pope available, John Paul will be staying for the first time in a hotel.
While John Paul has visited a number of Muslim countries, he has recently intensified efforts for religious harmony and a repudiation of all forms of violence in the name of religion.
The Pope in Bulgaria (official site)
21 May 2002