VATICAN CITY, MAY 18, 2004 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II observed his 84th birthday with a full day of work, though he did make time for a luncheon with his closest aides.
The highlight of this birthday was the publication in Spanish, Italian, Polish, German and French of his new book “Arise! Let Us Go!” about his experiences as archbishop of Krakow, Poland. The book will soon be published in English and Portuguese.
“It has been an ordinary day of work, although not totally ordinary, because it was a very intense day, full of appointments,” said Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro-Valls.
“The Pope does not have the habit of celebrating his birthday, but rather his saint’s day,” Nov. 4, the feast of St. Charles Borromeo, added the director of the Vatican press office.
The Vatican spokesman told Vatican Radio today: “One sees greater recollection in the Holy Father and a sense of thanksgiving to God for the gift of life. No public celebration was established in the whole of the Vatican. Perhaps, the sole particularity is that the Holy Father invited his closest collaborators of the Curia to dine with him.”
Navarro-Valls revealed that the Vatican was inundated by messages of congratulations sent to the Pope, including from non-Catholics.
“They are heads of state, of government, personalities of politics, art, above all persons who want to express their affection and gratitude to the Pope,” the spokesman said.
“Sometimes they send a message written as a letter or sometimes they go to the Bronze Door to leave a message of congratulations for the Holy Father, according to what I was told this morning,” he concluded.
Sources told ZENIT that the operators of the Vatican telephone service have been swamped by calls from the faithful who wished to congratulate the Pope.
The first to sing “Happy Birthday” were the Portuguese Prime Minister, José Manuel Durão Barroso, Patriarch José Policarpo of Lisbon, and Portuguese government ministers, bishops and journalists, who were in Rome for the signing of the new Church-state concordat.
In the afternoon, the Holy Father received Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, accompanied by his wife.
The Pontiff met in private with four bishops of the United States (from the three dioceses of Oklahoma City, Little Rock and San Angelo), and with the Polish bishops of Wroclaw and Dwidnica.
John Paul II also met with the participants in the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers.
During the celebrations last October for the 25th anniversary of his pontificate, John Paul II showed evident signs of health problems. But in recent months he has shown a clear improvement, which have led him to schedule two trips: one to Switzerland in June, and another to Loreto, Italy, in September.
Congratulatory e-mails can be sent to: email@example.com. On this occasion last year, the Holy Father received about 100,000 e-mails. By midday today that number had already been surpassed, said Vatican officials.