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Pope John Paul Becomes Third Longest-Serving Pontiff


Pope John Paul II has reached a new milestone, becoming the third-longest serving pontiff in the history of the Catholic Church. He marked the occasion by strongly condemning the terrorist attacks in Madrid.

No special celebrations were planned for the occasion. Pope John Paul, as he does every Sunday, addressed the faithful in Saint Peter's square and recited the Angelus prayer. This time he focused on the bomb attacks that killed 200 people Thursday in Madrid.

The pope said the horrendous crime has shaken world public opinion. In the face of such a barbaric act, he said, one wonders how the human soul can conceive such abominable acts.

Some pilgrims in Saint Peter's square held red and yellow Spanish flags, others waved peace flags. Many had turned out to be with the pope on this special day.

John Paul has now been in office 25 years and five months, surpassing Pope Leo XIIIth who died in 1903. Only Saint Peter and Pius IX held office longer, both for more than 30 years.

The pope's frail health is becoming more obvious. He has long suffered from Parkinson's disease and finds it difficult to speak and walk.

With his 84th birthday approaching in May, many are wondering how much longer the pope can manage to lead the world's one billion Catholics.

While he has cut down significantly on his travels, observers say his mind is razor sharp. But many inside and outside the Vatican feel the rule that a pope is elected for life should be changed. They feel a mandatory retirement age should be set for popes in the same way as bishops, who have to retire at the age of 75.

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