INTERNATIONAL

Pope prays at Lourdes

LOURDES (FRANCE), AUG. 14. His voice week, his legs unsteady as he knelt in prayer, Pope John Paul II joined thousands of other ailing pilgrims on Saturday at a shrine associated with miraculous cures, assuring them he shared in their physical suffering.

The rare reference to his own illnesses — Parkinson's disease and crippling knee and hip ailments — came at the start of a two-day visit to the shrine to the Virgin Mary, where Roman Catholics seek healing, hope and inner peace.

``With you I share a time of life marked by physical suffering, yet not for that reason any less fruitful in God's wondrous plan,'' John Paul said in remarks read for him by a French cardinal.

``Dear brothers and sisters who are sick, how I would like to embrace each and every one of you with affection, to tell you how close I am to you and how much I support you.''

The 84-year-old pope spoke haltingly in slurred French when addressing the French President, Jacques Chirac, shortly after arriving from Rome.

Moved around

Later, he made no attempt to read his brief speech when he prayed in the grotto where Mary is said to have appeared to St. Bernadette in 1858. The Pope is moved around on a wheeled throne, but at the shrine he was hoisted onto a kneeler, where he prayed before the ivy-covered grotto.

AP

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