BY LUKE COPPEN
JOHN PAUL II will mark 25 years as head of the Catholic Church by publishing a new cycle of poems, the Vatican has announced.
The announcement prompted speculation that the poem would be a spiritual "last testament", conveying the Pope's thoughts on his role in world history and the qualities required of his successor.
Italian reports suggested that John Paul TI spent about a year writing the 10-page poem cycle, provisionally titled, The Rome Triptych: Meditations of John Paul H. The cycle, which will be published in Polish and later in other languages, is expected to become one of the bestsellers of 2003.
Although details about the precise form and content of the meditations remain uncertain, the Vatican has contradicted early reports that the poems dealt with the themes of death and the afterlife. The Vatican Secretariat of State told a Polish Catholic news agency that the text was, in fact, "a poeticalreligious meditation".
"The Holy Father," the statement said, "desires that the publication of the poem does not focus readers' attention on his person, but on that which he holds in his heart and which he desires to express in poetic form for the glory of God."
Although a definitive date for publication has not yet been set, Italian news reports have said that the text is likely to appear in the spring, when the Pope turns 83 years, or in the autumn, when he celebrates the 25th anniversary of his election. But the Vatican has simply said it "will be published in the near future" and would not be "linked to any particular commemoration".
The meditations will be printed first by a small publishing house in Cracow, Poland, and later in Italian. The Vatican publishing house will be responsible for the translation.
The distinguished Polish poet Jerzy Peterkiewicz is likely to oversee the translation of the work into English. Shortly after John Paul B's election in 1978, Mr Peterkiewicz was commissioned by the Vatican to make the first ever book-length English translation of the Pope's poems. The Easter Vigil and Other Poems, published in 1979, consisted of 42 poems, mainly written in the 1950s and 1960s. They were included in the 1982 Collected Poems by Karol Wojtyla, and in The Place Itithin: the Poetry of Pope John Paul 11 in 1994.
In the introduction to his first translation, Mr Peterkiewicz, a professor emeritus of Polish Language and Literature at the University of London, said the poems provided "a subtle key to the rich personality of Pope John Paul II".
John Paul ll began writing poetry as a young man and. as a priest and auxiliary bishop of Cracow, continued to publish his works under the pseudonym, Andrzej Jawien.
Since his 1978 election, Pope John Paul has published several personal books in addition to his many encyclicals, apostolic letters and official papal texts. They include his 1994 booklength interview, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, and his 1996 vocational memoir Gift and Mystery.