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Pope struggles through short speech

Pope John Paul II, looking feeble and having difficulty reading greetings to pilgrims, yesterday struggled through one of his shortest Wednesday general audiences, held for the first time in his papacy at his summer retreat in this hilltown outside of Rome.

In past summers, while based in Castel Gandolfo, a lakeside town southeast of Rome, the pope would take a short ride by helicopter to return on Wednesdays to the Vatican to hold the audiences, which are popular with tourists.

But with the 82-year-old pontiff increasingly frail, he has apparently decided against making the weekly trips to Rome.

Later this month, John Paul makes a 12-day trip to Canada for a Catholic youth jamboree as well as to Guatemala and Mexico, where he will lead several long ceremonies.

In view of his failing health, 58% of Mexicans would rather he canceled the visit, according to a poll published Wednesday.

Yesterday, John Paul sat slumped in his chair for most of the audience, which was held in the palace's courtyard. His speech was often slurred and difficult to understand.


11 Jul 2002