VATICAN CITY, OCT. 2, 2003 ( John Paul II's secretary asked reporters to play down reports about the Pope's state of health, stressing they have been taken out of context.

The Holy Father kept busy this morning, receiving in audience Lithuanian President Rolandas Paksas, four bishops of the Philippines, as well as Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, the Vatican press office reported.

Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, the Pope's longtime aide, said that the press profoundly distorted a private comment made by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

"Cardinal Ratzinger wept yesterday," after seeing that the German weekly Bunte published those statements, Archbishop Dziwisz told journalists accredited in the Vatican.

The cardinal "did not grant an interview but, when he met a journalist he only said: Yes, the Pope is sick; pray for him," Archbishop Dziwisz said.

The papal secretary asked journalists not to dramatize or exaggerate John Paul II's health problems, emphasizing that much of the news published in recent years on his health proved to be false.

"Some of the journalists who in recent years have talked and written much about the Pope's health are already in heaven," he concluded with a smile.

The Holy Father appeared relaxed and attentive during the 15-minute audience with the Lithuanian president.