How John Paul II holds up has thus become the most-watched annual bellwether of his physical condition.
This year, the verdict was largely positive. The pope kept all his appointments, celebrated all his Masses and delivered all his public addresses, including the annual Easter Sunday Urbi et Orbi greetings in 62 languages.
He did so with verve. When building to rhetorical high points, such as any mention of Iraq or the need for peace, the pope’s voice became clear, strong, and booming. He was unusually comprehensible, even to people who didn’t have a text. At the end of the Urbi et Orbi remarks, the pope broke into song for the final greeting in Latin. (“The last language is the first!” he cheerfully quipped). The bit of bravado brought cheers from the crowd of 60,000 that had braved a rainy day in St. Peter’s Square.
One factor explaining the pope’s robust condition is his new rolling hydraulic chair. The device allows the pope to be wheeled into place in the sanctuary, and then raised up to the altar so he does not have to stand while celebrating the Eucharist. John Paul has aggravated arthritis in the right knee, so standing is wearying. Now he stands only for the reading of the gospel. For the same reason, the pope no longer walks the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday. This year he held the cross in a seated position during the 14th station.
...and various reactions to the Vatican's stance on the Iraq war, an interview with Tommy Thompson, and an explanation of how the rumor of the Traditionalist reconciliation began and exploded:
Coverage of the Vatican around the world suffers from a peculiar malady, which is dependence upon the Italian papers. Since most journalists who follow the Vatican don’t do so full-time, they often end up cribbing material from the local press. This is natural, but it can also be dangerous. Italian journalism is distinguished by strong personalities and sparkling writing, but not always by scrupulous concern for facts.