Vatican Confirms Pope Travel in May
Wed Apr 3, 7:35 AM ET

VATICAN CITY (AP) - Keeping up foreign travel despite his frail condition, Pope John Paul II will visit Azerbaijan and Bulgaria in May, the Vatican said Wednesday.

It was the Vatican's first confirmation of the trip that had long been in the planning stages.

The Vatican said it will take place May 22-26, but did not give details.

John Paul, who will turn 82 on May 18, cut back his participation in several Holy Week ceremonies because of what the Vatican described as arthrosis, a joint disease involving destruction of cartilage.

The Vatican on Tuesday denied an Italian newspaper report that surgery was planned on his ailing knee.

The pope's voice is often slurred and his hands tremble, both symptoms of Parkinson's disease (news - web sites).

The May trip is part of John Paul's efforts to improve relations with non-Catholics.

Azerbaijan, a former Soviet republic in the Caucasus mountains, is heavily Muslim while Bulgaria is predominantly Orthodox Christian.

Bulgarian leaders hope a papal visit will help dispel lingering suspicions that Bulgarian secret service officers were involved in the 1981 assassination attempt on the pope by Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca.

Three Bulgarians suspected of complicity in the shooting were acquitted by an Italian court for lack of evidence.


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