Weekend papal visit set for Spain
Pope John Paul II is making a whirlwind visit to Spain this weekend to meet with young people and canonise five new saints.
The Holy Father, who turns 83 in three weeks, is resuming travel abroad after a nine-month pause. Though burdened by health problems, he has appeared stronger in recent weeks.
Vatican officials are optimistic the pope can meet the demands of his travel schedule, which include a five-day tour of Croatia in June - trip No. 100 of his papacy - and a visit to Mongolia in August, with speculation he may stop over in Russia.
Church officials in Spain, where he has made four previous visits, predict that hundreds of thousands of young people will attend a Saturday rally at an air base outside Madrid. John Paul's meetings with youth have been a hallmark of his papacy, now the fourth-longest in the history of the Church.
There is speculation that he may use the occasion to speak about the aftermath of the war in Iraq, which he opposed. While the Spanish government supported the US-led coalition, surveys showed that a large majority of Spaniards opposed the conflict.
On Sunday, John Paul will preside at a canonisation ceremony for a priest killed during the Spanish civil war and four members of religious orders, raising to 469 the number of saints he has proclaimed in his nearly 25-year pontificate. John Paul has stressed the need for models for today's Catholics.
The pope also will meet Spanish political leaders and King Juan Carlos before returning to Rome on Sunday night.
Papal Voyages Resume with Trip to Spain (Catholic World News)
Pope Might Visit Switzerland in June 2004 (Zenit)
Apostolic Voyage to Spain, 3-4 May 2003 (Vatican website) | Program
Letter from Madrid: Pope and Aznar, again (UPI)
Big Macs replace loaves and fishes at Pope's pray-in (The Guardian 28/4/03)
October Celebration Eyed for Pope's 25th Anniversary (Catholic World News)
John Paul II's pontificate is fourth longest in history (Vatican Information Service)
31 May 2003