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Pope John Paul II Turns 84 - 2004-05-18


Pope John Paul II turned 84 years old on Tuesday. No special ceremonies were planned at the Vatican, but the pope's new autobiography was published to coincide with his birthday.

The pope's book called Get Up, Let Us Go is a recollection of his experiences covering 20 years, from when he became a bishop in Poland in 1958 to his election as pope over 25 years ago.

He recalls the difficult period under the communist regime in Poland. He also reaffirms his insistence on priest celibacy, stressing that he himself has never felt lonely having made this choice.

Pope John Paul was elected in October, 1978. The world was surprised to learn a non-Italian had been elected pope for the first time in more than 450 years. His name was Karol Wojtyla, and he was young for a pope, only 58 years old. Today he is the third longest serving pontiff in the history of the Catholic Church.

Not all pilgrims in Saint Peter's square these days are aware the pope has turned 84. They see he is a frail man, but many say he should continue to serve the church. Jeff Bridge is visiting from Georgetown, Kentucky.

"I think as long as he's healthy and he's able carry out his duties we should probably keep him around because he's pretty well liked and he's done well for the Catholic Church," he said.

The pope has had to slow down because of his age but he is determined to continue his mission. Father Keith Pecklers, a Jesuit who comments on Vatican affairs, says the pope is a man of deep faith who will keep going as long as he can.

"He obviously is quite frail and we're getting to the end of his pontificate," said Father Pecklers. "So, he certainly does the best he can do but it's radically different from what we would have seen five or ten years ago."

Pope John Paul no longer walks, and his speech is difficult to understand. He once addressed crowds with robust speeches in many languages. But he still presides over long ceremonies at the Vatican. And in a surprise to some observers, he plans to travel to Switzerland in early June to meet with young Catholics. It will be the first trip abroad this year for the Church's most well-travelled pope.

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