In Pompeii, strengthened pope prays for peace

Appearance helps ease recent fears about health


POMPEII, Italy - Pope John Paul II visited a shrine and prayed for world peace here yesterday, completing the final part of his travel schedule for the year. He spoke in relatively strong tones, allaying some concerns about his health.

Slumped in his throne, a posture that has become familiar over recent months, the 83-year-old pope initially garbled the words of his prayers and had trouble finding his place in his text, some lines of which he skipped.

He grew more expressive throughout the nearly three-hour ceremony in front of one of the world's most important shrines to the rosary, made a forceful appeal for peace and toward the end delivered impromptu remarks.

During that appeal, the pope, a tireless critic of the war in Iraq, told the crowd of about 30,000 that the new millennium "is already lashed by the winds of war and stained with blood in so many regions of the world."

The visit to Pompeii, an ancient Roman city buried under the ashes of Mount Vesuvius in the year 79, was the second for the pope. He visited the sanctuary in 1979, when his papacy was young and his health robust.

Observers have been paying especially close attention in recent weeks to the health of the pope, who suffers from Parkinson's disease, among other ailments. After a series of doleful appearances by the pope, European cardinals made especially candid remarks that he was sick and appeared to be nearing death.

But the pope, who will mark the 25th anniversary of his pontificate this month with a flurry of activity, including the beatification of Mother Teresa and the elevation of more cardinals to the group that will elect his successor, seemed sounder yesterday.

The ceremony followed a long Mass in St. Peter's Square in Rome on Sunday at which he raised three missionaries to sainthood. He has created more saints than any other pope.

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