From Bruce Johnston In Rome JOHN PAUL II'S mountain holiday in northwest Italy was having such a positive effect on the Pope that his aides were said to be pushing hard for it to be prolonged by at least three more days.
Unlike during most of his other summer breaks, the Pope has brought nothing in the way of serious Church writings to prepare in his 12-day stay this year in les Combes, in the Val d'Aosta, which began on July 11. The Pope has been staying at a brand new chalet which the Salesian fathers have specially had built, together with a lift, and a large garden bordering a pine forest.
On his arrival the Pope gently protested: "What? You haven't done all this just for me?" Aides said he only calmed down when told that the chalet would also be used in the winter, this time by cross country skiers.
However the unpredictable climate, which has also marked this year's stay — the Pontiffs eighth in the area — appeared to bother His Holiness much less.
"He has a background as a mountaineer," the Pope's spokesman Joaquin NavarroValls, said. "He knows the climate, which in the mountains can change from one moment to the next."
On Sunday, his seventh day in the mountains, the Pope appeared tanned, rested and in fine spirits as he recited the Angelus, during his only public appearance since his arrival.
The holiday has been an opportunity for the Pontiff, 80 and tired by the gruelling schedule of the Church's Jubilee celebrations, to relax and unwind. On one evening the local mayor cooked the papal entourage dinner, and on another occasion, the group toasted the saint's day of the Italian head of Vatican security, by drinking bubbly out of plastic cups.
Although the Pontiff had taken with him no major document to ponder, prepare or write, he was "thinking of the future, and of things to do, including even during the next year", his spokesman said. This included trips that he was keen to make to Athens, Syria, Moscow and Asia.
Asked whether the constant tide of pilgrims to the papal chalet was not wearing, Dr Navarro-Valls replied that this was "inevitable".
"But it doesn't disturb him [John Paul] at all. It's part of his pastoral activity. Even on holiday, he's still the Pope," he said.
Prayers for the poor
POPE JOHN Paul II has prayed that "the poorest of the poor" who died last week in a landslide at a huge rubbish dump in the Philippines will find eternal happiness with God.
The Pope also asked the Philippine government and the international conuuunity to give the survivors "the prompt assistance and the support which their human dignity demands".
The papal condolences were conveyed in a telegram sent to Cardinal Jaime Sin of Manila by Cardinal Angelo Sodano.
Agca accuses Vatican chiefs
MERMET Ali Agca, the terrorist who shot the Pope in 1981, was said this week to be writing an account of the attempted assassination in a Turkish jail, in which he will claim that the attempt on the Pope's life was actually ordered from inside the Vatican.
A report in Rome's La Repubblica,citingltalian intelligence sources, said Agca's account would seek to implicate several figures "in the upper reaches" of the Church hierarchy.
At the Pope's personal request, the terrorist was pardoned last month in Italy for the shooting, and released after spending 19 years serving for the crime, and extradited to his native Turkey, to answer charges there.
In a handwritten letter, the Pope asked Italy's President Carlo Ciampi to intervene and pardon Mehmet Ali Agca, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the papal spokesman said this week. The Vatican disclosure over Agca was the first official confirmation of the true extent of the Vatican's interest in the case.
Although Agca is considered an unreliable witness, La Repubblica said that the account that he was now writing amounted to "the third time since his return to Turkey". in which he had tried to speak out.
In an outburst in an Istanbul courtroom last week, Agca accused the Vatican of being the "enemy of God".
The news of Agea's written account broke on Tuesday amid publication of claims by the Italian magistrate heading investigations into the assasination attempt, whi implied that the Vatican h. tried to stifle inquiries.
In an end-of-probe report, Judge Rosario Priore accused the Vatican of being unhelpful over requests to collaborate, to the point that appeared to want to "place a tombstone on attempts to get to the truth".
Mr Priore said that he had sought help from the Vatican on six occasions during the course of the investigations, although almost all of them proved to be in vain.