BY LUKE COPPEN
POPE JOHN PAUL II asked for prayers for his ailing health during his 82nd birthday celebrations on Sunday.
The Pope, who left Rome on Wednesday for a gruelling fourday trip to Bulgaria and Azerbaijan, looked tired and uncomfortab/e during the festivities. He was unable to complete a speech to a group of 7,000 young people who had gathered at the Vatican to honour the Pontiff's birthday.
Celebrating a Mass to proclaim five new European saints, the Pope sat with his head tilted down and pronounced prayers with a tremulous voice. At times he appeared to have trouble breathing.
When the liturgy was over he thanked the faithful for "special prayers for my person and for the fulfilment of my Petrine service, entrusted me by the Lord".
The Pope was to depart three days later on his 96th foreign trip, to Azerbaijan and Bulgaria. It was the first of three trips in coming months. In July he travels to Toronto for World Youth Day, then to Mexico and Guatemala. In August, he will return to his native Poland.
John Paul II hopes that his trip to Bulgaria — the first ever by a Pope — will help to build bridges between the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox world. "DEAR BROTHERS and Sisters, the Book of Habakkuk concludes with a canticle that vividly describes God's coming in judgment to save his people. The glorious light heralding the Lord's approach symbolizes both his transcendence and his saving presence in the world and in history.
"The canticle depicts God in his holiness and majesty, but it also reveals his care for his faithful ones and his judgment upon the injustice, sin, and evil which disfigure his creation.
"Majestic in his glory and justice, the Lord appears in order to bring freedom, joy and peace to those whom he guides along the paths of life ...
"My greeting goes in a special way to the group from East Timor. As your nation prepares to celebrate its independence next Monday, I pray that the many sacrifices of recent years will now inspire the building of a society of justice and solidarity.
"May God bless the people of East Timor with true freedom and lasting peace!
"Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's Audience ... I cordially invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ."