VATICAN CITY, APRIL 18, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Speculation about John Paul II´s health is a constant concern for many of the journalists covering the Vatican.
Some newspapers have gone so far as to say that the Holy Father is increasingly ill and that he has left the reins of the Church´s government in the hands of his closest collaborators. He turns 82 in May.
Asked about John Paul II´s health, Cardinal Edward Cassidy told the Australian Associated Press on April 8 that “the Pope is a bit weak, and his knee hurts him, but his heart and mind are strong.”
The cardinal is former president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. A close collaborator of the Pope´s for many years, Cardinal Cassidy gave this report to the AAP agency after having dined recently with the Holy Father.
“If you were at the table with me that evening, and we were just together, the Holy Father and myself and his two secretaries, you would not say he was unwell, because, you know, there was a very interesting conversation and he had no problems from that point of view,” Cardinal Cassidy said.
“But, of course, when you see him and the difficulty he has to walk, especially now with that knee, which is causing him problems from the point of view of walking but (also) a lot of pain, the body certainly is very fragile,” he added.
Despite the Pope´s physical problems, Cardinal Cassidy stressed his “very strong heart” and “very strong mind, behind that weak body.”
John Paul II, in fact, has numerous daily public engagements. And added to these are his private meetings which, more often than not, are longer and more numerous than the public ones.
Over the past five days (April 13-17), for example, the Pope has attended three massive events with tens of thousands of faithful. He has received two heads of state, met with dozens of cardinals and bishops, and found time to meet with Latin American immigrants in Rome.
On Wednesday, all television cameras were able to follow his white figure for an hour and a half during the general audience in St. Peter´s Square. It was a cool, windy morning. The Pope greeted pilgrims in nine languages, after having delivered a long address on a canticle of the Book of Isaiah.
On Tuesday, John Paul II met personally with eight Nigerian bishops, to discuss the Church´s situation in that country gripped by violence after the imposition of Islamic law in various states.
That same day, he announced the resignation, “for the good of the Church,” of Auxiliary Bishop Franziskus Eisenbach of Mainz, after a woman accused the German bishop of abuse. The legal case had been dismissed. The Pope followed this case over the last few months, as confirmed in the statement signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
On Tuesday the Vatican also announced the meeting of U.S. cardinals, convoked by John Paul II, to address the sex-abuse scandals in that country involving priests. In another statement, published Wednesday, Cardinal Bernard Law, archbishop of Boston, disclosed that he had met a few days earlier with the Holy Father to discuss the matter.
On Monday morning, the Pope met with more than 10,000 pilgrims who had come to Rome for Sunday´s beatifications. John Paul II also met Costa Rican President, Miguel Ángel Rodríguez Echeverría, his wife, and entourage, as well as with Cardinal Miguel Obando Bravo, archbishop of Managua, Nicaragua.
John Paul II then had lunch with Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem. He asked for firsthand information about the conflict in the Holy Land, which he is following hour by hour. When hearing about the Franciscans besieged in Bethlehem´s Basilica of the Nativity, the Pope asked the patriarch to telephone them, right then and there, since he wished to speak with them and encourage them.
That same day, the Vatican gave reporters more details on the Pope´s forthcoming trip to Azerbaijan and Bulgaria (scheduled for May 22-26).
Sunday´s beatification ceremony, held outdoors in St. Peter´s Square, was long. The morning was windy, yet the Pope was able to address some 30,000 pilgrims in Spanish and Italian.
Last Saturday, he met Nicaraguan President Enrique J. Bolaños, as well as his wife and entourage. He also met the bishops of the Bolivian episcopal conference, who were ending their “ad limina” visit, as well as with a group of Latin American immigrants in Rome.
That same day, John Paul II appointed Rio de Janeiro Auxiliary Bishop Karl Josef Romer as secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Family.
To these public papal engagements must be added many of a private nature, as well as office work related to daily matters of the Church. And observers note the lights in the papal study burn well into the night, and then again early in the morning.