- The Washington Times - Monday, May 27, 2002

PLOVDIV, Bulgaria With Pope John Paul II increasingly frail, the Vatican suggested for the first time yesterday that it may have to cut back on the 82-year-old pontiff's future trips, indicating that planned visits to Mexico and Guatemala in July could be dropped.
The pope will go to Toronto to mark the Roman Catholic Church's World Youth Day, papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said, but he also hinted that the Vatican was carefully evaluating whether the ailing John Paul could handle the other stops on the proposed 11-day trip.
"Toronto is clear. For the others, we shall see," Mr. Navarro-Valls told reporters. "No decision has been made yet. Everything that has been confirmed is confirmed."
He added, however, that "something that has been confirmed can be unconfirmed."
Throughout the pontiff's 24-year papacy, the only trips postponed because of his ill health were a 1994 visit to New York after he broke his leg and a 1999 trip to Armenia after he came down with the flu.
According to the Vatican, John Paul has visited more than 140 countries on 96 trips, traveled nearly three times the distance between the Earth and the moon, and has spent about 10 percent of his time outside of the Vatican.
Despite persistent questions about his ailing health and flagging strength, the Vatican had insisted as recently as Saturday that no changes would be made to his travel schedule. Underscoring the sensitivity of the matter, Mr. Navarro-Valls issued a statement later yesterday stressing that no decision on the Mexico and Guatemala legs had been made.
Winding up a taxing four-day trip to Bulgaria yesterday with an outdoor Mass in the southern city of Plovdiv, the pope sat slumped in a white chair on the altar, looking feeble. His hands trembled, and his voice was heavily slurred, symptoms of Parkinson's disease.
Although he has difficulty walking and has been wheeled around on a special platform, Mr. Navarro-Valls denied there were any plans to use a wheelchair on future trips.
As he did throughout the Bulgarian visit and on a preceding stop in Azerbaijan, the pope read only a portion of his homily, turning it over to a priest to finish.


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