Warsaw, Poland, Dec. 28--(AP) Pope John Paul II is set to publish his first poetic work since becoming pontiff in 1978, a meditation on religion that will first appear in his former Polish diocese, church officials said Monday.

No date has been set for the work's release, the Rev. Pawel Ptasznik, a papal aide and an official at the Vatican State Secretariat's Polish section, said in a statement sent to the Warsaw-based Catholic Information Agency.

As Karol Wojtyla, the pope published poems, plays and philosophical essays during his time as priest, bishop and cardinal in the southern Polish city of Krakow before he was elected to head the Roman Catholic Church.

The pope "wishes that the first edition be published in Krakow, like all his previous poetic works," Ptasznik said, describing the book as a "poetic, religious meditation." No release date has been set, but the book would first be published in Polish, then translated into her languages, Ptasznik said. As bishop in Krakow, the future pope published poems and essays in Tygodnik Powszechny, Poland's leading Catholic weekly.

The Rev. Adam Boniecki, a friend of the pope and editor-in-chief of Tygodnik Powszechny, said in a telephone interview from Krakow that he has not yet seen the pope's new work, but expected it to be "a very personal, philosophical poem, a very intimate spiritual diary," focusing on John Paul's religious experiences.

Wydawnictwo Literackie, a Krakow publisher that has brought out previous works by the pope, has sought Vatican permission to publish the new book, spokeswoman Marta Bukowska said.

She also had no details about the book.

Born in Wadowice near Krakow in 1920, Wojtyla took part in theater performances in high school. In 1938, he enrolled as a student of literature at the Jagiellonian University and moved to Krakow.

During World War II, when the Nazis closed the university, Wojtyla became a priest, but he also joined the underground Rhapsody Theater, a small group that held poetry readings and staged plays in private homes.

Though John Paul hasn't produced a new poetic work in years, he has been active as an author since becoming pope. During the 1990s, he published the best-selling "Crossing the Threshold of Hope" and "Gift and Mystery," an autobiography tracing his journey from amateur actor to the Vatican.

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