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Pope set to celebrate 26 years of pontificate

An 84 year old and ailing Pope John Paul II - recognised as the world's longest-serving elected leader - will tomorrow quietly celebrate the 26th anniversary of his election as pope.

The AFP news agency comments that the "most media conscious pope in history" has been forced by his debilitating Parkinson's disease to return to the methods used by the Apostles in the first days of the Church, when Saint Peter or Saint Paul would write letters to isolated groups of followers.

It suggests writing has become John Paul II's outlet, a way of reaching the hearts and minds of his flock. Last week at the Frankfurt Book Fair, his Italian publishers announced that his latest philosophical tome, Memory and Identity - his reflections on the 20th century - would be published in the spring of 2005.

On Monday, the Vatican will launch an anthology of John Paul II's writings on diplomacy titled Pope John Paul II and the Challenges of Papal Diplomacy (1978-2003).

After his obvious difficulties a year ago during lenghty Vatican celebrations to mark the 25th anniversary - prompting some cardinals to break a Vatican taboo and openly speak of his succession, or even his imminent death - medical treatments and regimes have been introduced which some feel will enable him to continue for years to come.

Like most once-active and robust sportsmen, the Holy Father has been a difficult patient, but latterly he appears to have accepted a new therapeutic regime devised by his doctors.

There are no outward signs that the pope intends to quit travelling. There is a growing belief he may go to Germany next August for the World Youth Day celebrations in Cologne, and Ireland also beckons. The Vatican, ever prudent, declines to be drawn into a committment.

Some prelates believe that he can even go on to beat the record of Pius IX, who after St Peter is the second longest-serving pope - reigning for 31 years and seven months from 1846 to 1878. John Paul II would be 90 when overtaking Pius, and many would not bet against him making it.

Pope celebrates 26 years, and counting (AFP/Yahoo 14/10/04)

John Paul II (Vatican website)

Blood of Christ Effects Most Radical Liberation, Says Pope (Zenit 13/10/04)
Pope Makes an Appeal for Year of the Eucharist (Zenit 13/10/04)
Reflection on Canticle in Ephesians 1:3-10 (Zenit 13/10/04)
1.5 million faithful attended papal audiences in 2004 (Vatican Information Service 14/10/04)
The Pope's weekly Audience teaching: the Christological hymn from the Letter to the Ephesians is a call to "contemplate and savour this marvellous icon of Christ, the heart of Christian spirituality and worship, and also principle of unity and sense of the universe and of the entire human history" (Fides 13/10/04)

15 Oct 2004