- The Washington Times - Friday, May 19, 2000

VATICAN CITY Thanking God for letting him reach another milestone, Pope John Paul II marked his 80th birthday Thursday by celebrating Mass with thousands of priests, sharing lobster and cake with cardinals and singing songs with fellow Poles.

"Long live the pope" cheered thousands of well-wishers as he swung through St. Peter's Square in his open-top white "popemobile."

In a moment of exuberance, the frail pontiff lifted both hands from the vehicle's support bar and almost lost his balance. He quickly grabbed the bar again.

Celebrations were capped with an evening concert in his honor by the London Philharmonic, led by Gilbert Levine in a Vatican auditorium.

John Paul's public day began with an affectionate greeting from a top Vatican prelate on the steps of St. Peter's Basilica.

"We feel guided by a man of God who has won love and respect beyond any human barrier," Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos said in the name of the more than 6,000 priests from around the world who accepted the pope's invitation to help celebrate the birthday Mass.

"The Lord prepared an athlete to tirelessly walk the paths of the world," said the Colombian cardinal, referring to a younger image of Karol Wojtyla, the robust Polish bishop and skilled skier and hiker who became pontiff at age 58.

Then came fond words for today's pope, whose movement and speech are hampered by age and by symptoms associated with Parkinson's disease, such as tremors. The cardinal offered thanks for "those white hairs, for the suffering that has made you even dearer in our eyes, for your physically tired steps so spiritually intrepid."

John Paul added his own "hymn of gratitude to the Father of life, who allows me today to celebrate the Eucharist with you with the exultance of the perennial youth of the spirit on the occasion of my 80th birthday."

Later in the Mass, while a chorus sang "alleluia," John Paul bowed his head, at times raising his clasped hands to his face, in apparent prayer or meditation.

Red roses decorated the altar area where the pope gave Communion to some of the faithful chosen from the crowd.

At one point, the pontiff, whose staunch support of Poland's Solidarity labor movement is credited with helping bring about the demise of Soviet bloc communism, seemed to be acknowledging his role in history.

God, he said, wanted to link his existence as priest, bishop and pope to being a "witness to the love of God for all humanity in these times of ours."

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