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Pope wraps up gruelling Slovakia pilgrimage

Looking drained, an increasingly frail Pope John Paul II celebrated Sunday Mass for 200,000, completing a challenging four-day trip that included the beatification of two Slovaks imprisoned and tortured under the former communist regime.

One of the beati was Bishop Vasil Hopko, who was placed under house arrest and solitary confinement, then interned and incarcerated for 15 years, following the communist government's banning of the Catholic Church. The other was nurse Sr Zdenka Cecilia Schelingova, was sentenced to 12 years' jail for high treason after helping a priest escape from prison.

"I thank God because you have been able to safeguard, even in difficult times, your fidelity to Christ and to his church," John Paul said.

Today, nearly seven in 10 of Slovakia's 5.4 million people are Catholics.

At yesterday's ceremony, the Holy Father slurred his words and turned over his homily to a cardinal to complete. Bidding farewell at the airport before departing for Rome, he struggled to catch his breath. But his presence drew cheers from the large crowd filling a plaza near a sprawling communist-era housing project.

Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said: "It is very moving how he has incorporated the physical limitations into the way he performs his ministry," he told reporters.

The Slovakia visit was John Paul's last scheduled trip, although he has invitations for next year from at least four countries including France, Austria, Switzerland and the pope's native Poland.

Asked whether Slovakia would be John Paul's last trip, Navarro-Valls replied: "I don't think so. Knowing the Holy Father, it is very difficult to say it will be the last trip of his pontificate."


Slovakian Catholics and Their Religious Roots (Zenit)
Pope to beatify two victims of communism in Slovakia (AFP)
Poles flock to Slovakia to see their beloved Pope (AFP)
Frail Pope Blesses Twins at Slovakia Mass (AP)
Frail Pope cheered in Slovakia (BBC)
A Look at the Two Clerics Being Beatified (AP)
Illness Forces Changes in Pope's Routine (AP)
Pope struggles through service (AP)
Pope ends Slovakia tour (Reuters)
Pope wraps up grueling Slovakia pilgrimage (AP)
Pope's poor health forces changes in routine as he nears 25th anniversary (AP)
Pope Alert but Drained After Pilgrimage
Pope Ends Visit to Slovakia (AP)
Vatican official praises clips from controversial Gibson film (AP)
The globe-trotter Pope (BBC)
John Paul II Urges Christians to Abandon Mediocrity (Zenit)
Future of Church in Slovakia Linked to Vocations (Zenit)
Papal Message to Slovak Bishops (Zenit)
Papal Homily During Mass Celebrated In Banska Bystrica (Zenit)
John Paul II's Address in Trnava Cathedral (Zenit)
Pope ends tiring Slovakia visit, beatifying communist victims (AFP)
Pope's failing health raises spectre of final trip abroad (AFP)
Frail Pope Delivers Strong Anti-Communist Message (Reuters)
Frail pope delivers anti-Communist message (Reuters)
Frail Pope rallies but thoughts turn to his successor (The Guardian)
Illness Forces Changes in Pope's Routine (AP)
Looking frail, pope urges Slovaks not to cast aside Christian faith (Catholic News Service)
In Slovak heartland, pope urges families to keep traditional values (Catholic News Service)
Pope stops in small town that played big role in Slovakian history (Catholic News Service)
Slovakia needs 'education to freedom,' Pope says (Catholic World News)
Slovak prelate downplays Pope's health problems (Catholic World News)
Crime at all-time low during Pope's visit to Slovakia (Catholic World News)

Frail Pope urges Slovaks to cling to Christian faith (12/9/03)
Papal Visit to Slovakia (official website)
Apostolic Journey to Slovakia (Vatican Website)
Catholic Bishops Conference of Slovakia
Archbishop JŠn Sokol, Archbishop of Bratislava-Trnava (
Catholic Church in Slovakia (

15 Sep 2003