Pope scraps appearances due to health concerns

Wednesday, March 6, 2002

VATICAN CITY -- Pope John Paul II is scrapping several public appointments over the next two next weeks on the advice of his doctors, the Vatican said Tuesday.

Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said a painful, arthritic knee was forcing the pontiff to cancel his weekly general audience on Wednesday and parish visits the next two Sundays.

The knee was also cited in last-minute cancellations of parish visits last week and the week before.

The pope, who turns 82 in May, has a grueling schedule of Holy Week ceremonies later this month, culminating with an Easter vigil and Easter Day celebrations.

The Vatican said the parish visits would be rescheduled.

In his last public appearance Sunday, John Paul was short of breath at times as he read a homily from his window overlooking St. Peter's Square.

He has suffered for years from the symptoms of Parkinson's disease, including a hand tremor and slurred speech.

"The Holy Father's doctor, with the consultation of his collaborators, in consideration of the persistent painful symptoms of his right knee, certainly of arthritic nature, has advised the pope to have a required rest, to better cure the ailment," Navarro-Valls said.

He said someone will read the pope's speech at next Wednesday's audience and the pontiff himself will appear only briefly at his window to bless the crowd.

For years, the pope's doctors have been pleading with him to take it easier.

John Paul has had trouble walking for years following hip surgery after a fall.

The Vatican said the parish visits would be rescheduled.

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