Subject: Pope meets East Timor's Gusmao

Received from Joyo Indonesia News

Agence France Presse October 11, 2003

Pope meets East Timor's Gusmao


Pope John Paul II appeared in relatively good form when he met East Timor President Xanana Gusmao on Saturday and later addressed 2,000 Sardinian pilgrims, the day after the Vatican firmly denied reports that he was undergoing dialysis treatment.

The 83-year-old pontiff gave a private audience to Gusmao and a group of East Timorese officials for around 15 minutes Saturday, almost 14 years to the day since John Paul II's visit to East Timor on October 12, 1989.

Gusmao, then leader of East Timorese rebels seeking independence from Indonesia, was in the jungle at the time and unable to meet the pope. He became president after his tiny nation of 800,000 people gained independence from Jakarta in May 2001.

The head of the Roman Catholic Church, whose failing health is a matter of deep concern days short of the 25th anniversary of his election, appeared relaxed and spoke clearly during the audience.

The pope has long experienced problems with his diction, one of the symptoms of Parkinson's disease which is taking an increasing toll on his health.

The East Timorese group passed a plastic bag of goods to the pope for him to bless.

"Thank you very much for your visit," the pope said in English to Gusmao at the end of the audience.

He then addressed 2,000 pilgrims from a parish in Sardinia but despite beginning with a strong clear voice, completed only the first two paragraphs before he faltered. Visibly tiring, he did not attempt to complete his address, though he presided over the rest of the audience.

On Friday, the Vatican reacted angrily to "irresponsible" reports that his doctors had, or were considering, placing the pope on dialysis to clear his blood of impurities.

"Once again, we can only deplore an irresponsible piece of information which could have been avoided from the start by consulting official sources," Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro Valls said.

"We have always released information on the state of the pope's health when it has been necessary," he added. 

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