Pope explores life, death in new poetry collection

— Pope John Paul II's new book of poetry, a three-part meditation on nature, life and death -- including his own -- makes clear he has no plans to step down.

"Roman Triptych" is the first book of poetry John Paul has written since becoming pope in 1978. Vatican officials said the poems came out of a trip to his beloved Poland last summer.

The slim burgundy-covered volume was published Thursday in John Paul's native Polish, although translations in English, French, Spanish, Italian and German are ready, papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls told reporters.

The frail 82-year-old pope has spoken about his own mortality in recent years, referring to the "twilight years" of his papacy and, during the trip to Poland last year, asking for "a prayer for the pope during his lifetime and after his death."

But "Roman Triptych" is the first published work by the pope discussing his own passing.

He makes the reference in Part II of the three-part epic, describing the frescoed Sistine Chapel, where cardinals gathered to elect him pope during a conclave in 1978.

He writes: "And so it will be again, when the need arises after my death."

There was some speculation that John Paul, who suffers from the symptoms of Parkinson's disease and knee and hip ailments, might announce his retirement during his emotional trip home to Poland last August.

Writing after his return, the pope makes clear he intends to carry on with his mission until he dies and that his successor will be chosen only "after my death."

In Poland, where the book was launched in John Paul's spiritual hometown of Krakow, "Roman Triptych" is already a best seller, with orders placed for about 80 percent of the initial printing of 300,000.

Marek Skwarnicki, the pontiff's friend of 50 years, described the work as a "credo at a time of great spiritual chaos, amid a doubting world, threatened by wars and by terrorism."

"The pope wrote it as someone knowing that he is at the end of his time -- somebody already seeing God and talking about that to others," he said at the presentation in Krakow, where the future pope, Karol Wojtyla, lived as archbishop.

The 40-page work includes drawings by Michelangelo and two pages of photocopied text in the pope's even handwriting.

The volume is divided into three parts: "The Stream," "Meditations on the Book of Genesis: At the Threshold of the Sistine Chapel" and "A Hill in the Land of Moria."


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