No Reason for Alarm About Pope's Health, Says Cardinal Re

Statements Taken Out of Context Renew Concern

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 3, 2003 ( Responding to media speculation, one of John Paul II’s closest aides, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, says there is no reason for alarm over the Pope’s health.

The prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, who lunched with the Holy Father on Wednesday, said: “The Pope is a strong man, lucid in mind, with a clear view of the world.”

“Of course he has real difficulties with pronunciation, especially when he is tired, and he has problems walking,” he said Thursday at a book presentation.

Today, the Pope had a full schedule of audiences. In the morning he received Jean Obeid, Lebanon’s Foreign Affairs Minister; three bishops from the Philippines; and the Redemptorists participating in their congregation’s general chapter.

The Pope was also to receive in audience Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller, who is in Rome to attend the European Union’s Intergovernmental Conference.

Cardinal Re’s statements were made after some news media exaggerated statements made by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna.

In an interview on Austrian national radio, the Vienna archbishop said that “even a life as full and intense” as this Pope’s “has to end sometime.” He said that that was something quite natural, but what is unusual is that it should occur “in everyone’s view.”

“Everyone is seeing a sick Pope, incapacitated, who is dying — I don’t know how close he is to death — who is nearing the last days and months of his life,” the cardinal said. He added that the image of the frail Pope “is a difficult sign for our society, which idolizes health.”

Cardinal Schönborn’s interview was published by an international agency under a headline, “The Pope Is Dying.”

A spokesman for the Vienna prelate, Erich Leitenberger, said later that Cardinal Schönborn’s statements should be taken “philosophically and not literally.”

The previous day, John Paul II’s personal secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, said that the press had distorted a private comment made by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, to the point that it made the German weep.

On Thursday, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer came away from an audience with the Pope relieved that his health seemed better than recent reports had suggested, the news portal said.

“It’s not like in the media. He is not on the brink,” Downer said after the Vatican meeting.

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