2016-06-30
VATICAN CITY, April 6 (RNS) -- Pope John Paul II, six weeks away from his 81st birthday, faces a taxing Holy Week schedule that will open this weekend with an outdoor Palm Sunday Mass and World Youth Day observance in St. Peter's Square.

Despite his age and the neurological disease that makes it difficult for him to move and sometimes slurs his speech, John Paul will lead the world's 1 billion Roman Catholics in four days of solemn liturgical celebrations next week culminating in the Feast of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday.

The pope, who will turn 81 on May 18, also is preparing a pilgrimage May 4-9 ``in the footsteps of St. Paul'' to Athens, Damascus and Malta. He will meet with Greek Orthodox and Muslim leaders and is expected to become the first Roman 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 underlined his determination to continue his active ministry. Although he did not read the entire phrase, it was issued by the Vatican as an official text.

``In my ministry, I never tire of meeting people, and this indeed is the point of the pilgrimages and the pastoral visits that I make,'' he said. ``And even now that the years have passed, if God wills it, I did not intend to stop because I am certain that Christ can easily be announced in personal contact with 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 televised worldwide.

But charges by the Italian government that Radio Vatican antennas exceed standards for electromagnetic emissions could shut down the Vatican's radio transmissions in 40 languages to millions more listeners.

Environment Minister Willer Bordon, who has threatened to turn off Vatican Radio's power supply next Tuesday, said Thursday that the results of three weeks of monitoring of the emissions ``are not encouraging.'' Italian officials contend that the emissions endanger the health of people living nearby.

On Palm Sunday, John Paul will bless palm fronds and olive branches to recall Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem and will celebrate a Mass proclaiming the events that led to the crucifixion and resurrection.

At the end of the Mass, the pope will preside over a ceremony at which 47 young Canadians, led by five Inuit drummers from Nunavut, will take possession of a 4-foot-tall wooden cross that is the symbol of the annual World Youth Day, which he instituted in 1984.

The pope will preside over two Masses on Holy Thursday, the day on which the church commemorates Christ's institution of the Eucharist and the ordained ministry at the Last Supper.

All the cardinals, bishops and priests present in Rome are invited each year to concelebrate the Mass of the Chrism with the pope on Thursday morning in St. Peter's Basilica as a sign of the close communion between the pope and his priests.

In early evening, John Paul will drive across the Tiber River to the Basilica of St. John Lateran for the Mass of the Last Supper at which he will wash the feet of 12 priests.

On Good Friday, the pope will hear confessions in St. Peter's Basilica and at early evening celebrate Christ's Passion, presiding over a Liturgy of the Word, the Adoration of the Cross and Communion in the basilica.

After dark, he will lead a torch-lit Way of the Cross procession around the Colosseum, Rome's most famous pagan monument. During the procession, an aide will read a meditation written by the English Cardinal John Henry Newman.

The Easter Vigil opens with a ceremony in the atrium of St. Peter's Basilica in which the pope blesses the new flame, which then is passed from candle to candle inside the darkened church. During the Mass, the pope will baptize a group of adults.

As the Mass ends at midnight, all the church bells of Rome and the Vatican will ring out to proclaim Christ's resurrection.

Just 10 and a half hours later, John Paul will celebrate Easter Sunday Mass on the broad steps of the basilica. At midday, he will wish the world a happy Easter in more than 50 languages and deliver his Easter address, in which he traditionally sums up the state of the world.

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