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Pope Celebrates 82nd Birthday - 2002-05-17


Pope John Paul II celebrates his 82nd birthday Saturday amid new talk of his possible resignation should his health continue to deteriorate. The pope is making travel plans for this year, despite his failing health.

Pope John Paul's failing health and clear symptoms of Parkinson's disease have been obvious to Vatican observers for some time. He has recently been seen to be out of breath during his speeches and struggling to climb stairs.

His deteriorating health has sparked new comments about his possible resignation as the pope prepares to celebrate his 82nd birthday. No special event has been planned for the occasion.

A Latin American cardinal said the pope could step down if he felt he could no longer fulfill his role as leader of the world's Roman Catholics. Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga said the day the Pope cannot go on, he will stop.

The Cardinal said that Pope John Paul feels the responsibility of his ministry and would have the courage to resign. The 59-year-old cardinal from Honduras is considered one of the pope's possible successors.

Another cardinal, Joseph Ratzinger, agreed with Cardinal Maradiaga, saying the pope could decide to retire should his health see a turn for the worse.

The two cardinals are not the first to say Pope John Paul could resign for health reasons. A top German bishop, Karl Lehmann, raised the possibility two-years ago.

But the comments contradicted statements by Vatican officials, who have frequently said that the pope is not considering resignation. Earlier this week, the pope said he would remain at his place for as long as God permits.

In the Catholic Church, popes do not usually resign, although they are allowed to do so. The last pope to step down was Celestine V in the 13th century.

Doctors have urged Pope John Paul to slow down, but he continues to plan international trips.

Just four-days after his 82nd birthday, the Pope will travel to Azerbaijan and then onto Bulgaria. In July, the pope will travel to celebrate World Youth Day in Canada, and then he goes on to Mexico and Guatemala. In August, Pope John Paul plans to return to his native Poland.