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Pope Ends Visit to Poland - 2002-08-19

Pope John Paul II, wrapping up an emotional homecoming in Poland, prayed Monday for the physical and spiritual strength to continue his work "to the end." The prayer at the pope's last public appearance in Poland was the clearest sign to date that he has no intention to resign, despite his failing health.

The pope was greeted by thousands of Poles in traditional embroidered dress, as he concluded his nostalgic journey home with a mass marking the 400th anniversary of the Kalwaria Zebrzydowska sanctuary.

The baroque hilltop monastery, with 42 chapels that depict Biblical scenes surrounding the death of Jesus, is one of the places where the pope often prayed and walked in contemplation while he was a boy growing up in nearby Wadowice.

Kalwaria Zebrzydowska was the last official stop on the pope's sentimental visit, which has taken him to a sanctuary where he prayed under Nazi occupation, the cathedral where he said his first mass as a priest, and his parents' graves.

He also referred to his own mortality during the emotionally charged mass.

The pope spoke about the apostles and the suffering of Jesus Christ, then mentioned his own ailments and suggested that his life was in Gods' hands. In a prayer, he asked the Virgin Mary to give him strength in body and spirit to, in his words, "carry out to the end" the mission given to him.

The pope suffers from Parkinson's disease and other ailments.

He is revered by Poles for inspiring resistance to communism and for steadying them during painful economic changes since communism fell in 1989. On Sunday, he attempted to lift national spirits at an outdoor mass for about three million people, the largest crowd ever to see him in Poland.

On the final day of his ninth return to his homeland, he repeated that more solidarity should be shown to the poorest people in the country. Poland has an unemployment rate of almost 20 percent and is in its worst economic slowdown in more than a decade.

The pope also said that democracy has brought what he called excessive secularization, and he again talked about what he considers the dangers of abortion and genetic manipulation.