Pope Honors Martyr in Outdoor Mass
PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (AP) _ Pope John Paul II, on an ambitious Asian tour, faces his most grueling day yet Wednesday as he ends a whirlwind stop at Port Moresby and heads for Australia.
The 74-year-old pontiff needs a cane and his movements are still limited as he slowly recovers from hip surgery last April. He seemed relatively healthy in Manila, where he began his 11-day trip last Thursday, but appeared to wilt a bit Tuesday during an open-air Mass to honor a native martyr.
Between engagements in Port Moresby, the pope rode in a chair in the back of an open pickup truck, with a yellow awning providing the only protection from the city’s first rain in seven months.
John Paul was to begin Wednesday by meeting with Prime Minister Sir Julius Chan, one of Papua New Guinea’s 1 million Roman Catholics, and bless the sick at a parish. Later, after an early-evening arrival in Sydney, the pope planned a public address.
Filipino authorities, meanwhile, provided more details Tuesday of a possible plot to kill the pope there, but two reported threats here were downgraded.
During Mass on Tuesday, John Paul beatified Peter ToRot, a lay teacher ordered by Japanese occupation forces in World War II to halt his missionary work. A Japanese military doctor killed him in 1945 with a lethal injection.
``The wars, concentration camps and intolerance of our own time have yielded a rich harvest of martyrs in many parts of the world,″ John Paul said. ``Today your fellow countryman ... has been listed among them.″
Beatification, the last step before sainthood, is part of John Paul’s program to give local role models to Catholic communities, especially where they are in the minority. Nearly a third of Papua New Guinea’s population is Catholic.
ToRot’s exhumed bones were carried in a tiny casket by a procession of bare-chested men and women wearing feathered headdresses and necklaces of shark and dog teeth. The casket was placed in a thatched hut beside the altar.
ToRot’s 49-year-old daughter, Ruffina, called the ceremony ``an indescribable joy.″
An estimated 8,000 people attended the mass at Sir John Guise Stadium. Crowds reached to touch the pontiff, but security men held them off.
Security for the pontiff, who survived a 1981 assassination attempt, is tight because of threats that Muslim extremists would bomb an American plane to protest John Paul’s tour.
In the Philippines, authorities said Tuesday they discovered a plot against the pope and had changed his motorcade route as a result.
A Philippine National Police spokesman said a Jan. 7 search of an apartment near the Vatican’s official residence found a large quantity of chemicals that could be made into explosives. The search also yielded priming devices, crucifixes, buttons with papal insignia, pictures of the pope and maps of the papal entourage’s route.
``We intentionally did not reveal this information so as not to unduly alarm the pope and dampen the public mood,″ said Superintendent Arturo Lomibao.
Papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro said the Vatican was not informed of the threats. He said the only deviation on the motorcade route in Manila was near the airport. ``I thought it was because of the crowds,″ Navarro said.
After John Paul arrived in Papua New Guinea on Monday, police said they were seeking two Iranians who dropped from sight after checking out of their hotel just before the pope came. Later checks determined the men actually left the country Jan. 9.
Police said a Filipino businessman was detained Tuesday after trying to carry a loaded pistol into the stadium. But Assistant Police Commissioner Philip Taku said Perfecto Santos, a longtime resident, had a permit to carry the gun for personal protection and was released after questioning.