A wistful, ailing pope turns 82

Sunday, May 19, 2002

VATICAN CITY -- A wistful, ailing Pope John Paul II celebrated his 82nd birthday Saturday before thousands of cheering youngsters, but could only muster reading a few lines of his speech before deferring to an aide.

The celebration capped a week in which two prominent cardinals said they believed the pope would retire if his frail health deteriorated to the point where he no longer could govern his church.

John Paul looked tired during the brief, public marking of his birthday in a Vatican auditorium, where a youth band played "Happy Birthday."

Ushers wheeled the pope in and out of the auditorium on a platform, saving him from walking to center-stage. But the pontiff gathered enough strength to kiss a youngster.

"Thanks, so much thanks for your wishes," John Paul told the crowd.

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