CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, SEPT. 29, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Appearing healthier, John Paul II is set to return to the Vatican on Monday, after his usual summer at the papal residence of Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome.
The Pope, who will celebrate the 24th anniversary of his pontificate on Oct. 16, seemed in good humor when he prayed the Angelus with pilgrims gathered here today. He spoke clearly in seven languages, overcoming problems of pronunciation he has had in recent months.
This summer, John Paul II turned his traditional Sunday meetings with pilgrims into veritable audiences. After praying the Angelus, the Pope has lingered, personally greeting many of those present.
His health has undoubtedly improved. On May 26, at the end of his visit to Azerbaijan and Bulgaria, some journalists who traveled with him wrote that that might well be his last international trip. Some reported that he might cancel his trip to Mexico and Guatemala.
Yet, John Paul II went to Canada, Mexico and Guatemala from July 23 to Aug. 1, and then he made an enormously successful pastoral visit to his native Poland, from Aug. 16-19.
The Pope’s physical improvement has caused surprise in some countries. In France, for instance, the sale of regenerating pills based on tropical fruits — which pioneer AIDS researcher Luc Montagnier gave to John Paul II — has skyrocketed, despite the fact that the Holy Father is not taking the pills.
John Paul II’s pontificate is now the fifth longest in history, and he still keeps up a busy schedule.
The Holy Father has called an ecumenical summit with Lutheran leaders, who will meet in St. Peter’s Basilica on Friday, to celebrate the birth of St. Bridget of Sweden. Next Sunday the Pope will canonize Opus Dei founder Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer.
On Oct. 13, the Holy Father will attend yet another decisive ecumenical event in the Vatican, when he meets with Patriarch Teoctist of the Romanian Orthodox Church. The patriarch is coming to Rome to thank the Pope for his 1999 visit to Romania.
On Oct. 18, John Paul II will preside over a Mass in the Vatican, which will be attended by students of the ecclesiastical universities in Rome.
On Oct. 20, he will beatify five people, including two young Ugandan martyred catechists.
On Oct. 31 he will be declared an “honorary citizen” of Rome. This will be the first time a Pontiff receives such recognition since Italy’s unification. Then, on Nov. 14, he will visit the Italian Parliament — something that has not happened since the republic’s independence.
John Paul II also continues with his magisterial work. Today he announced the imminent publication of a document in which he proposes the rediscovery of the beauty of praying the rosary.
Vatican sources told ZENIT that the Holy Father might publish a pastoral letter on the Eucharist this year.