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Ailing Pope Delays Croatia Visit

May 31, 2002

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ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) _ Pope John Paul II has postponed a third visit to Croatia until spring 2003, the Catholic news agency IKA reported Friday. The visit had been tentatively planned for September.

The pontiff, who turned 82 on May 18, recently returned from a five-day trip to Azerbaijan and Bulgaria. The Vatican has suggested that future trips might have to be curtailed because of his poor health.

John Paul’s hands tremble and his speech is slurred, symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, and he walks with difficulty.

On his Sept. 14-15 visit, the pope had intended to beatify Croatian Catholic laymen Ivan Merz and Ivana Petkovic. Beatification is the last step before possible sainthood.

In 1998, on his last visit to Croatia, the pope beatified Croatia’s controversial World War II-era Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac. John Paul made his first visit in 1994 to Croatia, where about 80 percent of the nation’s 4.7 million people are Roman Catholics.

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