Originally created 05/11/05

Pope presses ahead with busy schedule



VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI is pressing ahead with a busy schedule of ceremonies and travel, indicating that concern over his age and health - including reports he has suffered at least two strokes - isn't slowing him down.

The 78-year-old Benedict has set a grueling pace for himself, keeping up Pope John Paul II's twice-weekly appearances to the faithful and meeting with heads of state and visiting bishops. Last week, he traveled outside Rome for the first time as pope to formally take possession of the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo - and promised to return.

In the next few weeks, he has appointments in Rome and in the Adriatic port of Bari. And in August, he heads to Cologne, Germany, for World Youth Day.

The former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was the oldest man elected pope in 275 years when he was tapped by his fellow cardinals April 19 to become the 265th leader of the Roman Catholic Church.

The cardinal turned 78 two days before the conclave started, and was feted by cardinals during one of the secret pre-conclave meetings.

His health also has been a topic of discussion. He has acknowledged having suffered a hemorrhagic stroke in 1991 that temporarily affected his vision, as well as a fall that knocked him unconscious in 1992. He has said he recovered without permanent damage from each incident.

Benedict's brother, the Rev. Georg Ratzinger, has been quoted in several German media outlets about his younger brother's health, including an interview April 24 with the German television station TDF in which he said Benedict had suffered two strokes.

The Bild newspaper reported April 20 that the pope had "suffered several light strokes" in the past, although it gave no sourcing. Bild also quoted Georg Ratzinger as expressing concern about his brother, saying: "And health-wise, he's no longer the most robust. His heart! Such a man should really not have such a burden put on him."

The Catholic News Service reported after the election that a few lower-ranking Vatican officials had written the pope's personal secretary, Monsignor Georg Ganswein, to suggest that Benedict slow down and consider using a chair to spare him from walking and standing.

Given the pope's calendar, it appears such concerns have been brushed aside. Still, Benedict told the cardinals soon after he accepted their decision that his would be a "short reign," several cardinals have said.

On Sunday, Benedict will lead the ordination of 21 Roman priests in St. Peter's Basilica. On May 26, he will return to the cathedral where he serves as bishop of Rome, St. John Lateran, for an outdoor Mass and procession down the street to another Rome basilica, St. Mary Major.

He goes to Bari on May 29. After that, his schedule is fairly open - except for his Wednesday general audiences and Sunday noon greetings - until June 24, when he is to visit Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi in Rome.

Five days later, Benedict will preside over the annual feast of saints Peter and Paul, in which he will confer the lambswool pallium, or shawl, on new bishops.

As a cardinal, Ratzinger often was asked if John Paul might resign if his health deteriorated. In a 2002 interview with the German Catholic weekly Muenchner Kirchenzeitung, he said that if John Paul saw absolutely that he couldn't continue, "then he would certainly step down. As long as it only means suffering, he will hold out."

Two years later, Ratzinger told the Italian religious affairs magazine Famiglia Cristiana that with modern medicine, he couldn't rule out term limits for future popes.