Vatican says Pope will visit Switzerland

The Pope will be the focus of attention in Bern Keystone

The Vatican has confirmed that Pope John Paul II will make a two-day trip to the Swiss capital, Bern, next month as planned.

This content was published on May 3, 2004 - 16:56

It will be the Pope’s first trip abroad since a visit to Slovakia in September, and his first to Switzerland for 20 years.

There were concerns the 83-year-old Pope’s frail health could lead to a cancellation of his visit to Bern, where he will attend a Catholic youth festival on June 5-6.

A spokesman for the Swiss Bishops’ Conference described Monday’s decision as a “huge gift”.

Spokesman Denis Theurillat said it was proof that the Pope was still a “friend of youth” despite his advanced years and poor health.

The Pope will be received upon arrival by a Swiss government delegation headed by this year’s president, Joseph Deiss, before attending the youth meeting at Bern’s main indoor stadium.

Instead of spending the night at a Bern hotel, the Pontiff will stay at a residential home for elderly people, run by an order of nuns.

On Sunday, tens of thousands are expected to attend an open-air mass given by the Pope, which will also be attended by Protestant clergymen.

He will address the crowds in Switzerland and say mass while sitting in a special hydraulic white throne.

Health fears

The Pope, who will turn 84 on May 18 and suffers from Parkinson's disease, looked extremely frail during the Slovakia trip.

During the visit, aides had to read most of the Pope's addresses and many people thought it would be his last trip abroad.

He was also particularly weak during celebrations in October marking the 25th anniversary of his election.

In recent months, however, his health appears to have improved. His speech is clearer and his body does not shake as much as before.

He presided at all of the Holy Week and Easter ceremonies last month, reading the homilies himself.

The Pope's health is one of the most closely guarded secrets at the Vatican. Some aides have said his Parkinson's medication has not changed but that doctors may have altered its timing and dosage.

Others have attributed the improvement to the cyclical ups and downs of the disease.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Religious persuasion of Swiss population:
Roman Catholic: 42%
Protestant: 35%.
Muslim: 4.3%
Jewish: 0.2%.

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In brief

It will be the 103rd foreign trip of his 25-year papacy – a record in the history of the Roman Catholic Church.

Pope John Paul was the youngest-ever Pontiff - and the first non-Italian - when he took office at the age of 58.

The Pope last visited Switzerland in 1984, when he spent six days in the country.

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