Frail pope ready for more travel

Tuesday, May 6, 2003

VATICAN CITY -- Pope John Paul II tried only a few feeble steps during his weekend trip to Spain, sat in a hydraulic chair and was wheeled on a trolley down a red carpet.

But his clear voice and animated expression delighted crowds that reached 1 million, and the frail pontiff passed the physical test posed by foreign travel. Now he's preparing for a trip to Croatia -- the 100th international visit of his long papacy -- and, later, a summer pilgrimage to faraway Mongolia.

Such a journey, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said, "would be a symbol of his pontificate" with the pope traveling so far to meet with a community of "170 -- not 170,000 -- but 170 Catholics."

John Paul is far and away the most traveled pope in history, visiting Catholic communities small and large during 99 foreign pilgrimages.

Next on the pope's schedule is trip No. 100, a June 5-9 tour of Croatia, with five different cities on his agenda. That will be followed by a day trip to Bosnia later in that month.

The Mongolia journey is being structured around the opening of a Catholic cathedral in that country. But Vatican officials also are seeking to work out a stop en route in Russia.

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