The Pope celebrated his birthday quietly, enjoying a cake along with his staff in the papal apartments. No public ceremony took place to mark the date.
Sunday, on a visit to a parish north of Rome, the Pope joked with youngsters about his advancing age, admitting, "I think of myself as an old priest." But he cautioned: "Remember that once I was just like one of you, and one day you will be like me."
Although his bearing is certainly less erect, and his stride much less certain, than it was several years ago, Pope John Paul is no longer the subject of constant rumors about his health. In fact, most observers agree that his condition has stabilized since the difficult autumn of 1996, when a appendix operation provoked a flurry of rumors that he was mortally ill. In fact, the trembling in his left hand-- which most doctors assume is a symptom of Parkinson's disease, although the Vatican has never officially admitted that the Holy Father is suffering from that illness-- seems less pronounced today than it was a year ago.
Since his last hospitalization in October 1996, the Pope has undertaken eight international trips, including several in which he endured extreme weather conditions; he came through those trips without undue signs of strain.
Larry O'Toole and his son, Larry Junior, were shot in St Joseph's Church, Ballymun, sending 60 children, mostly 7-years-old, fleeing in terror. O'Toole was formerly a Dublin city councilor for Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army. He was attending the First Communion of his eight-year-old granddaughter Laura.
Six hundred people -- including 60 first Communicants -- were in the church when a gunman walked in, fired two shots into the ceiling, then opened fire on O'Toole, hitting him in the back. Father Terry Twohig, who was celebrating the Mass, said he believed at first that the gunman was shooting blanks. "I spent 30 years in the Philippines and was used to the sound of gunfire," he said. "Suddenly, when the gunman shot Mr. O'Toole, I realized it was for real."
The gunman ran from the church, chased by members of the congregation. He turned and fired again, hitting O'Toole's son in the chest. The gunman was caught within 100 yards and was kicked and beaten. Police arrived shortly afterwards and arrested the 24-year-old man, who is believed to be local. The gunman and the O'Tooles are recovering in hospital.
Police believe the shooting was drug related, as Sinn Fein have been active in setting up anti-drug vigilante groups in working-class areas of Dublin. Archbishop Connell said it was most distressing that young children should have been witness to such an event.
At present, Peru's calendar includes four religious holidays besides Christmas and Holy Week: The Feast of Saints Peter and Paul on June 29, The Feast of Saint Rose of Lima on August 30, All Saints' Day on November 1, and the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8.
The proposed law that would move all four religious feasts to the following Monday was approved by the congressional commission for labor and is now ready to be discussed at the parliament. "The goal of this project is to increase productivity by avoiding holidays in the middle of the work week and increase tourism by making longer weekends," says Congressman Ricardo Marcenaro. Marcenaro admitted that the powerful Peruvian Business Association (CONFIEP) have been lobbying for this law.
Cardinal Augusto Vargas Alzamora of Lima, the president of the Peruvian Bishops' Conference, said: "The law is based on fallacies and will mean, if approved, the religious and cultural suicide of the country." Cardinal Vargas explained that the experience of 1991, when a government decree moved the religious feasts to the next Monday, "showed that it did not had any relevant effect in either productivity or in tourism." In fact, in 1993, President Fujimori returned religious feasts to their original date.
According to a CONFIEP statement, "Catholics will be not affected by the change, since each good Catholic would go to Mass with or without the holiday." But Bishop Luis Bambaren Gastelumendi, secretary-general of the bishops' conference, said: "This is a very weak argument, because the question here is whether our laws and culture help Catholics to maintain the true spirit of religious feasts or if they exist to make it more difficult." He added, "In other words, the question is who we believe deserves the holiday: God or industry?"
According to the independent local pollster Apoyo, more than 70 percent of Peruvians oppose the proposal. "The reason is obvious," said Cardinal Vargas. "To our people the religious feasts are deeply enmeshed with culture and family moments that require keeping the celebration united with the holiday."
News coming from Kosovo shows that the situation is heavily deteriorating, said Pax Christi, and because the international community was slow to act there is the danger that the consequences might be as tragic as in Bosnia. Pax Christi also expressed its fear that the Italian government will lift support for the just solution of Serbian-Albanian clashes in Kosovo.
The peace group called upon Italy to clearly state its stance on the defense of the human rights, which should be higher than economical interests. Pax Christi said it believes that the solution for the region should not be postponed, because it would support the arrogance of the strong and cause a repeat of ethnic cleansing. Pax Christi was founded as a movement for the reconciliation between France and Germany after World War II.