Despite his age and the neurological disease that makes it difficult forhim to move and sometimes slurs his speech, John Paul will lead the world's 1billion Roman Catholics in four days of solemn liturgical celebrations nextweek culminating in the Feast of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday.
The pope, who will turn 81 on May 18, also is preparing a pilgrimage May4-9 ``in the footsteps of St. Paul'' to Athens, Damascus and Malta. He willmeet with Greek Orthodox and Muslim leaders and is expected to become the firstRoman Catholic pontiff to set foot inside a mosque.
In an address prepared for a gathering of Rome's young people in St.Peter's Square Thursday in preparation for World Youth Day, the pope underlinedhis determination to continue his active ministry. Although he did not read theentire phrase, it was issued by the Vatican as an official text.
``In my ministry, I never tire of meeting people, and this indeed is thepoint of the pilgrimages and the pastoral visits that I make,'' he said. ``Andeven now that the years have passed, if God wills it, I did not intend to stopbecause I am certain that Christ can easily be announced in personal contactwith my brothers and sisters.''
The Way of the Cross procession at the Colosseum on Good Friday,the Easter Eve Vigil in St. Peter's Basilica and the pope's ``urbi et orbi''message on Easter Sunday to the city of Rome and the world will be televisedworldwide.
But charges by the Italian government that Radio Vatican antennas exceedstandards for electromagnetic emissions could shut down the Vatican's radiotransmissions in 40 languages to millions more listeners.
Environment Minister Willer Bordon, who has threatened to turn off VaticanRadio's power supply next Tuesday, said Thursday that theresults of three weeks of monitoring of the emissions ``are not encouraging.''Italian officials contend that the emissions endanger the health of peopleliving nearby.
On Palm Sunday, John Paul will bless palm fronds and olive branches torecall Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem and will celebrate a Massproclaiming the events that led to the crucifixion and resurrection.
The pope will preside over two Masses on Holy Thursday, the dayon which the church commemorates Christ's institution of the Eucharist and theordained ministry at the Last Supper.
All the cardinals, bishops and priests present in Rome are invited eachyear to concelebrate the Mass of the Chrism with the pope on Thursday morningin St. Peter's Basilica as a sign of the close communion between the pope andhis priests.
In early evening, John Paul will drive across the Tiber River to theBasilica of St. John Lateran for the Mass of the Last Supper at which he willwash the feet of 12 priests.
On Good Friday, the pope will hear confessions in St. Peter's Basilica andat early evening celebrate Christ's Passion, presiding over a Liturgy of theWord, the Adoration of the Cross and Communion in the basilica.
After dark, he will lead a torch-lit Way of the Cross procession around theColosseum, Rome's most famous pagan monument. During the procession, an aidewill read a meditation written by the English Cardinal John Henry Newman.
The Easter Vigil opens with a ceremony in the atrium of St. Peter'sBasilica in which the pope blesses the new flame, which then is passed fromcandle to candle inside the darkened church. During the Mass, the pope willbaptize a group of adults.
As the Mass ends at midnight, all the church bells of Rome and the Vaticanwill ring out to proclaim Christ's resurrection.
Just 10 and a half hours later, John Paul will celebrate Easter Sunday Masson the broad steps of the basilica. At midday, he will wish the world a happyEaster in more than 50 languages and deliver his Easter address, in which hetraditionally sums up the state of the world.