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Pigeons fly from Rome to Poland to celebrate pope's reign

Exactly four hours after Pope John Paul II's flight took off for Toronto on Tuesday, a special flock began its flight from St. Peter's Square to Poland, the pope's homeland and the site of the next papal trip.

Their departure was blessed by Fr Jozef Zylka of Gdansk, Poland, and was witnessed by dozens of ducking tourists.

The flock was composed of 8681 homing pigeons raised in cities and towns throughout Poland. The number represents one for each day of the Polish pope's pontificate to 23 July. They are expected to return to their nests sometime tomorrow; the distance between Rome and Warsaw is approximately 1200 km as the pigeon flies.

Meanwhile, the Holy Father is planning another round-the-world trip next year, according to a statement from Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls on Tuesday.

He told reporters in Toronto that the Holy Father "strongly desires" to visit the Philippines in January 2003 for an international meeting of families in Manila.

Despite frequent reports that the Holy Father is too ill to travel or to keep up his grueling pace, the 82-year-old Pontiff continues to schedule pastoral events that would seem to belie any such debilitating frailty.


25 Jul 2002