Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi has dismissed speculation that Pope Benedict XVI
's health is in serious decline, saying the Pontiff continues to carry out an intense schedule, and reasserting he has no specific medical concerns.
Speaking to Newsmax on Wednesday, Lombardi said he “continues to confirm there is no particular illness,” adding that the Pope, who will be 85 next April, “has the strength to carry out very intense activities.” He noted Benedict XVI will be presiding over “many celebrations in the next few days which last many hours.”
“I don't know what else to say,” he added. “It's the usual story that tends to appear around Christmas. If you look at the live television programmes, you will see he's fine.”
Lombardi added that each person is free to comment, but at his most recent public engagement — at a Rome prison last weekend — Benedict XVI was able to respond to questions from prisoners “in a very lively manner, quickly and lucidly.”
The speculation followed news that the Pope is suffering from arthrosis, leading him to use a mobile platform at Vatican ceremonies. Benedict XVI is also taking measures to preserve his strength; he no longer meets each visiting bishop on a one-to-one basis, nor issues public messages to new ambassadors.
The Pope is also wrapping up a year crammed with demanding events, including four foreign visits, one of which was to Africa. But compared to last year which was eclipsed by the sexual abuse crisis, 2011 has gone relatively smoothly.
The year began with good news for the Catholic Church: that the Pope had formally recognized a miracle attributed to Pope John Paul II's intercession, paving the way for his beatification — the penultimate step to sainthood — on May 1st.
As predicted, the ceremony drew enormous numbers of pilgrims -- an estimated 1.5 million came to Rome and millions of others watched the event around the world. But the beatification was not without notable criticism, mainly from two quarters: fervent traditionalists who saw the late Pontiff as “silently promoting” liberalism, and clerical sex abuse victims who believe he did too little to tackle the crisis.
Benedict XVI paid tribute to Blessed John Paul II as a Pope who “restored to Christianity its true face as a religion of hope,” saying he “rightly reclaimed for Christianity that impulse of hope which had in some sense faltered before Marxism and the ideology of progress.”
This year the Pope also published the second volume of his book, “Jesus of Nazareth,” focusing on Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem to the resurrection. Released to coincide with Lent, it was generally well received. Media attention was drawn to a particular passage in which the Pope suggested that Jews should not to be blamed for Jesus' crucifixion but rather select individuals.
The Pope kept up his travel commitments this year, but his first visit outside Italy didn't take place until early June when he visited Croatia. The rest took place in relatively quick succession: to Spain for World Youth Day in August, to Germany in September, and Benin in November. Each of them, including the Pope's visit to his hostile and increasingly secularist German homeland, were seen as successful, despite controversies surrounding each one.
Some Vatican commentators said the Pope's speech to the German Parliament, in which he warned of the dangers of a positivist approach to politics, was one of his best. It disarmed many of his critics, especially Green Party members — his most vociferous political opponents — who were reportedly astonished to learn of his concern for the environment.
But naturally, this year wasn't without its trials, conflicts and disappointments. The Pope was preoccupied with many of the world's trouble spots, especially the tribulations of the Arab Spring. Frequently, he called for dialogue and negotiation, and that the rights of civilians be respected.
In October, the Vatican's justice and peace council issued a document on the financial crisis that called for a global authority, but the document drew widespread consternation, particularly from proponents of the free market.
And in July, the sexual abuse crisis grabbed headlines once more with the publication in Ireland of a report that included criticism of the Vatican's handling of the crisis, denied by the Holy See. Diplomatic relations with Ireland soon collapsed, culminating in the closure of the country's historic embassy to the Holy See for “economic reasons” (though diplomatic relations continue).
Talk of the Holy See losing its international standing soon followed, although Malaysia, a Muslim nation, announced it was establishing formal diplomatic relations this year, taking the number of nations with formal diplomatic links to 179. The Pope also continued to receive invitations to visit other nations and has accepted requests to visit Cuba and Mexico in 2012. He may also travel to Lebanon and Ireland.
Lombardi admitted that such an intense schedule can tire the Pope, but he laughed off speculation that the pontiff’s health is in rapid decline.
“When you're nearly 85 years old, you have to take tiredness into account — one day he can seem tired, on others he'll be fine,” added Lombardi, who is 69 years old. “It's the same with me.”
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