VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 16, 2003 ( Whether John Paul II continues to travel abroad will be for him alone to decide, a Vatican spokesman said in the face of renewed speculation over the Pope's health.

The Holy Father had arrived last Thursday in Bratislava, Slovakia, looking frail of health, and triggering a new round of speculation by newspapers over whether the 83-year-old Pontiff would continue to make apostolic pilgrimages abroad.

At one point Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro-Valls told journalists that the decision about future travel will be made by John Paul II himself.

The question is more than academic. The Pope already has been invited to visit Austria, France, Switzerland, Poland and Mexico next year.

"Personally, I think that the invitations to the Pope will be accepted, either all or in part," Navarro-Valls said. "In any case, to date no decision has been made. The one who will decide is the Pontiff himself."

The director of the Vatican press office said at the end of the Slovakia visit: "Whoever knows the Pope also knows that one can never say, 'This is the last trip,' as it all depends on his wish and desire."

"The Pope lives with naturalness his own physical limitations: God has allowed them for him at this age, and people understand this and accept it," the spokesman said.

Navarro-Valls added: "The question as to whether it is worth the trouble for the Pope to continue traveling, despite the fact it costs him so much suffering, should be answered by the peoples he visits, on this occasion the Slovaks, who awaited him and celebrated him."