Worn-out pope skips general audience speech

Thursday, April 15, 2004

VATICAN CITY -- Pope John Paul II, worn out from a heavy Easter schedule, skipped a speech at his general audience Wednesday on his doctor's advice, the Vatican said. The 83-year-old pope, who suffers from Parkinson's disease and is increasingly frail, presided at the open-air audience in St. Peter's Square and issued greetings in several languages, but he didn't read his opening address. Papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said the pope's doctor had advised him against doing more. The pope has difficulty speaking because of Parkinson's disease and often skips portions of his speeches, though the Vatican generally doesn't comment on it. It was not clear why the Vatican decided to issue a statement Wednesday.

John Paul appeared in relatively good form and his voice was clear. He lingered for 45 minutes after the formal portion of the audience to greet pilgrims.

The Pope completed a heavy Holy Week schedule that included several Masses, an evening appearance at the Colosseum for a Good Friday procession and an Easter Sunday message.

About 25,000 pilgrims and tourists attended the audience Wednesday, with extra security measures taken during Holy Week still in force. All attending had to pass through metal detectors set up at the edge of the square and a large force of uniformed police patrolled the area.

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