Pope’s spirits revive after Lourdes trip

POPE John Paul II, looking healthier than during his weekend pilgrimage to Lourdes and speaking with a clear voice, thanked God yesterday for giving him the strength to visit the French shrine.

“I give thanks to God who in his benevolence allowed me to go on the pilgrimage to Lourdes,” the pontiff told the faithful gathered at his summer residence in Castelgandolfo for his weekly audience.

At Lourdes, the 84-year-old Pope had struggled to finish his sermon, at one point softly muttering in Polish: “Help me”. An aide then took him some water.

But yesterday, the Pope appeared in better form during his first public activity since returning. As has become custom, he did not read the prepared address and greetings in their entirety but his voice was clear and he appeared stronger.

In Polish, he told the faithful: “I thank you for having sustained me with your prayers during my pilgrimage to Lourdes.”

John Paul’s illness and frailty were very evident on the trip, the 104th of his pontificate, fuelling speculation about his health. The pope has Parkinson’s and severe arthritis but says he is determined to do his job to the end.

Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels, who is seen as a leading contender to succeed John Paul, was quoted by Belgian media on Monday as saying the Pope could be near the end of his life.

Meanwhile, the Pope’s visit to the shrine at Lourdes last weekend has left the local Catholic Church deeply in debt.

Pilgrims at an open-air Mass on Sunday were asked to make a suggested donation of €10. At the end of the day, the coffers came up short, by well over €1 million.

“It would be good if we could find €1.2m to cover the costs related to the Pope’s visit,” said Monsignor Jacques Perrier, bishop for Lourdes and the nearby town of Tarbes.

For the Pope’s two-day visit, more than 300,000 pilgrims travelled to Lourdes, in the French Pyrenees, where an illiterate peasant girl, St Bernadette, said she had visions in a grotto of a white-clad Virgin Mary in 1858.

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