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Cardinal Danneels says Pope's health "seriously weakened"

Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels has said that Pope John Paul II's health has deteriorated and that he may be near the end of his life.

The 84-year-old Pope, who has Parkinson's disease and severe arthritis, visibly struggled as he wound up an emotional visit to the French miracle shrine of Lourdes on Sunday.

A crowd of about 200,000 listened to his words from a field near the grotto where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to a peasant girl in 1858.

"It was one of the most moving celebrations ever," Cardinal Danneels, told the Belgian daily Het Laatste Nieuws yesterday.

"The Pope's health has seriously weakened. When the Pope says: 'I end my pilgrimage here', that could mean two things. That, at least was how people listening to him in the field interpreted it. It was almost his goodbye to Lourdes and maybe also to his life," the cardinal added.

Danneels told Belgian VRT radio the Pope's comments about the end of his pilgrimage "may point to something deeper".

"It could of course mean that it is not something that will happen tomorrow or next month but that he does consider that the end is approaching," he added.

The Pope, whose speech is often hard to understand, no longer walks in public and has to be wheeled around in a special chair.

Pope's health "seriously weakened" (Reuters 16/8/04)

Papal visit does little for gaudy Lourdes shops (Reuters 16/8/04)
Frail Pope Struggles Through Lourdes Mass (Reuters 15/8/04)
Frail Pope bids farewell to France with 'last Mass' (Irish Independent 16/8/04)
Belgian Cardinal: Pope's Health Seriously Weakened (Voice of America 16/8/04)
Pope Offers Condolences To Relatives Of Massacred Burundians (AFP/Turkish Press 16/8/04)
Pope's frailty part of his message on gruelling Lourdes trip (AFP/Yahoo 16/8/04)
Pope delivers emotional Lourdes sermon (Belfast Telegraph 16/8/04)
Pope struggles over Lourdes Mass (CNN 15/8/04)
Sick comforted by the Pope in Lourdes (Independent Catholic News 16/8/04)
Pope shares physical weakness of pilgrims while praying at Lourdes (Catholic News Service 16/8/04)
Ailing Pope completes pilgrimage to Lourdes (Catholic World News 16/8/04)
Pope's health "seriously weakened" (Catholic World News 16/8/04)
Knock pilgrims urged to prepare for pontiff's visit by returning to prayer (Irish Independent 16/8/04)
Pope's Lourdes call for youth "breath of fresh air" (CathNews 16/8/04)
Pilgrimage to Lourdes 14-15 August 2004 (Holy See website)

17 Aug 2004