John Paul II Celebrates 82nd Birthday Among Students

Prepares Forthcoming Trips to Bulgaria and Azerbaijan

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VATICAN CITY, MAY 19, 2002 ( Paul II spent his 82nd birthday on Saturday preparing for his forthcoming international trips to Bulgaria and Azerbaijan, and receiving pilgrims.

7,000 students of the Christian Brothers´ Schools sang «Happy Birthday» to the Pontiff in the Vatican Audience Hall.

The Pope seemed tired but cheerful during the celebration. His collaborators suggested he read only the most important parts of his prepared address to conserve his energies.

The rest of the text was read by one of the La Salle Brothers. At the end of the meeting, the Pope seemed reluctant to go. In fact, he stayed some ten minutes longer to personally greet a good many of the students.

The Holy Father dined with several of his close collaborators, among whom was the Dean of the College of Cardinals, Benin´s Cardinal Bernardin Gantin. The luncheon ended, of course, with a cake and candles.

One of the most original gifts the Holy Father received for his birthday was from Mel Lastman, Mayor of Toronto, where the World Youth Day will be held at the end of July.

The present was a one-meter high wooden moose that, Lastman explained, is a symbol of the Pope´s strength, beauty, and stamina.

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