VATICAN CITY, Dec. 15 (CNS) -- As Pope John Paul II guided the church through a packed calendar of events during Holy Year 2000, one question trailed him like a shadow: What comes next?

More than a year ago, according to a widely circulated story, the pope told top aides not to pencil him in for anything past Jan. 6, 2001 -- the day he would swing shut the Holy Door and, with it, the jubilee.

The implication was that the 80-year-old pontiff, left increasingly frail by neurological disease, would cut back his official activities or even resign once he had successfully led the church into the third millennium.

Other longtime papal observers warned of a ``post-jubilee letdown'' that, psychologically or even physically, might affect the Polish-born pope after his crowning achievements of the jubilee.

But as the Holy Year winds down, it's becoming clear that this pope has no intention of closing up shop once he closes the Holy Door.

Instead, he's getting ready for yet another year of consistories, synods, canonizations, foreign travel, public liturgies, speechmaking and meetings.

``I don't see him slowing down. I think the pope will be returning to the kind of activity that existed before the jubilee. If anything, the intense agenda of the jubilee has postponed many issues that must now be dealt with,'' papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said in mid-December.

In January, the pope is expected to name about 25 new cardinals, once again changing the face of the body that one day will elect his successor. After they receive their red hats -- probably in late February -- Pope John Paul will have chosen 110 out of 120 potential papal electors.

The new batch of cardinals is expected to include Archbishop Edward M. Egan of New York and possibly Archbishops Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington and Justin F. Rigali of St. Louis. Among other cardinals likely to be named are those from Italy, England, Ireland, India, Nigeria, Brazil, Argentina, and several other Latin American countries.

Perhaps the most taxing item on the pope's 2001 calendar is the regular assembly of the Synod of Bishops in October, postponed from 2000. The pope presides personally over its long general sessions, then typically lunches with groups of participants. He is expected to take a particular interest in this year's theme, the role of the bishop.

The pope will continue his globetrotting papacy after the Holy Year, although the trips planned will keep him fairly close to home. In May, he'll resume his series of pilgrimages to biblical lands when he makes his first visit to Syria.

In June, he ventures into Ukraine, where a Catholic minority is eagerly awaiting him but where Orthodox Christians are still wary of a papal visit. A stop in Athens, Greece -- where St. Paul preached -- could be tacked onto that trip, depending on reaction from the Orthodox Church of Greece.

In September, the pope is expected to make his way to Armenia in Western Asia, another predominantly Orthodox country that is celebrating the 1,700th anniversary of Christianity. For now, it looks like a hoped-for post-synodal trip to Oceania has been ruled out because the long flight could prove too fatiguing for the pontiff.

According to Navarro-Valls, the pope's travel plans reflect a top priority for the coming year: improving ecumenical relations, especially with the Orthodox. By personally venturing into the Orthodox heartland, the pope hopes to build bridges and soothe conflicts, confident that he is a pontiff who truly understands the East.

At the same time, the Vatican spokesman said, the pope does not feel like he's working against a deadline when it comes to improving relations with the Orthodox.

``He's looking ahead, but he's also looking back, aware that for nearly 10 centuries there were no contacts (between the churches). That doesn't mean another 10 centuries has to pass, but certainly there are problems that cannot be resolved in a year or two,'' Navarro-Valls said.

Foreign trips are the most widely covered part of a papacy, but most of Pope John Paul's time is spent in a series of invisible meetings behind the Vatican's walls. Among the most important are ``ad limina'' visits made by individual bishops to consult personally with the pope and his aides. Suspended during the Holy Year, they are set to pick up again in 2001, with groups of bishops from Latin American countries.

The pope is also expected to resume his frequent habit of visiting Rome parishes on weekends. To date, he has visited 290 parishes in his diocese, and has about 38 left. Sources in the Rome vicariate said the first visits are being tentatively lined up.

Add to that the constant stream of audiences with ambassadors, papal nuncios, Vatican managers and groups ranging from soccer teams to religious orders, and it's clear that the pope will not have much of a respite after the Holy Year's heavy load.

In fact, he won't even get a day off: The morning after closing down the Holy Year, the pope will be back saying Mass in the Sistine Chapel and baptizing about 20 babies born during the jubilee year.

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