- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 30, 2003

VATICAN CITY — Ailing Pope John Paul II is “in a bad way,” one of his closest advisers said in an interview published yesterday, calling on the faithful to pray for him.

An aide to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, however, said the comments in no way indicated John Paul’s health had worsened in recent days. Instead, they reflected concern about his frailty, the aide said.

The Polish-born pontiff, who was elected pope in 1978, is 83 and suffers from Parkinson’s disease.

“He is in a bad way,” Cardinal Ratzinger told the German weekly Bunte, which said its correspondent spoke with him at the Vatican on Sept. 22. “We should pray for the pope,” he said.

Those comments to some degree only confirm what’s been obvious in John Paul’s recent appearances, but also raise concerns the pope’s health might have deteriorated beyond what has been visible to all.

However, Cardinal Ratzinger’s aide, the Rev. Georg Gaenswein, said the cardinal’s remarks did not mean John Paul’s health has worsened in recent days. He said the remarks came in response to a request by a group of visiting German brewers to have an audience with the pontiff while they were in Rome.

“They were told, ‘Unfortunately, this is not possible. The pope’s health doesn’t allow him to make a lot of physical effort,’” Father Gaenswein recalled.

Father Gaenswein noted that conserving strength was particularly important in the run-up to a heavy schedule John Paul has given himself for October, including celebrations of his 25th anniversary as pope.

On Sept. 23, the pontiff came down with an intestinal ailment that caused him to skip his weekly general audience the next day.

Asked whether Cardinal Ratzinger’s comments indicated any change in the pope’s condition, the Vatican press office replied by noting that John Paul would resume the general audience today.

The pope will also celebrate Mass on Sunday on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica to raise three churchmen to sainthood, the Vatican announced yesterday. Canonization ceremonies generally last about two hours, an indication that the pope’s doctors think he has the stamina for the appearance.

On Sunday, John Paul spoke with great difficulty and stopped to catch his breath several times as he announced the appointments of 31 new cardinals from his studio window overlooking St. Peter’s Square.

Asked whether the pope is taking on too much, given his state of health, Cardinal Ratzinger was quoted as telling Bunte that “that is very probably the case.”

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