Pope Has Never Expressed Desire to Resign, Navarro-Valls Says

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 8, 2001 (ZENIT.org).- Pope John Paul II will continue to lead the Catholic Church with the same intensity he did during the Holy Year, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said, during an interview with the EFE news agency.

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Navarro-Valls recalled that over the 17 years he has worked with the Pope, «I never heard him say he would retire.» Thus, the spokesman denied the news published in some European media over the past months, asserting that the Pontiff would resign at the end of the Jubilee Year 2000 and would return to his native Poland.

The Vatican spokesman said that the Pontiff continues with all the plans he hoped to implement when his pontificate began; he is very tenacious and when anyone suggests that the activities planned might be tiring and harmful to his health, his response is automatic and not without irony: «I will soon have time to rest.»

It is in this context that the Pope´s decision to celebrate Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve in St. Peter´s Square, defying the cold and rain that enveloped and drenched the Eternal City, is to be understood. When his assistants pointed out that the ceremony would last several hours and that the weather would be poor, his reply was categoric: «If the faithful endure hours and hours in the Square, why should I be an exception?»

In his statements to EFE, Navarro-Valls confirmed that the Pope is in good physical condition, despite his 80 years, his clinical record marked by the attempt on his life, and his various falls and operations.

«In person, he is better than the pictures on television because many times, when we see him on the small screen, he has had a hard day and is tired, which is reflected in his face,» the Vatican spokesman explained.

Asked by EFE if the Vatican «hides» the Pontiff´s ailments, Navarro-Valls said that 85% of John Paul II´s activities are public, with photographs and television cameras picturing him from all angles. Therefore, «it would be absurd to try to hide what can be seen plainly by all.»

When asked if John Paul II is still governing the Church, Navarro-Valls was firm. «He makes the decisions.»

The Vatican spokesman also said that there is no feeling in the Vatican that the pontificate is now in its final stage. «There is no such feeling; proof of this is that the Pope continues to make plans, write documents, and give surprises.»

Among the Papal plans is the trip to Ukraine, scheduled for this coming June. However, prior to Ukraine, the Holy Father hopes to visit Damascus, Syria, following in St. Paul´s footsteps. Although this trip is not confirmed, it is in an advanced stage of preparation — though it will depend on the situation in the Middle East.

Also being planned are trips to Armenia, Athens, and Malta and later to Oceania [Australia and the Pacific Islands], perhaps New Caledonia, to hand deliver the final document of the Synod of Bishops for that continent. John Paul II may also travel again to Brazil.

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