Vatican Announces Ukraine Visit to end Pope Resignation Rumors
The Vatican announced Monday that Pope John Paul II would visit the Ukraine in June in what appeared to be an attempt to end rumors he might resign at Christmas.
The rumors surfaced Saturday in the German newspaper Bild, which reported that the Holy See was preparing for the 80-year-old pontiff to stand down for health reasons.
"The reports are baseless," the Vatican spokesman, Joaquin Navarro Valls said. "I can, however, confirm that the sovereign pontiff will go to the Ukraine next June."
If the trip goes ahead, it would be the pope's third to a former Soviet country since the bloc collapsed in 1991.
The pope, who traveled to Georgia in November last year and Lithuania in 1993, was invited to the Ukraine by President Leonid Kuchma in October.
Catholicism is strong in the western half of the former Soviet republic but Ukraine's dominant faith is the Orthodox Church.
The Church, in 1996, split into the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, a branch of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow, the Autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Kiev Patriarchate Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
The pope's deteriorating health is a constant source of speculation over when he might stand down. He is suffering from Parkinson's disease, which makes it progressively more difficult for him to talk and move.
In an interview published in October, the Archbishop of Malines-Brussells, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, said the pope could decide to resign next year.
The president of the German Episcopal Conference, Karl Lehmann, said in January that he trusted the pope would be able to say he could not continue, when and if it became necessary -- VATICAN CITY (AFP)
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