Throughout the world there have been many expressions of concern for Pope John Paul II, following his hospitalisation for influenza. In giving his usual Sunday blessing on 7 February, from a window of the Gemelli Hospital in Rome, the Pope seemed to be more frail than in any of his public appearances since he was seriously ill in September 2003.
Despite media speculation that he would step down, and as this issue of AD2000 goes to press, John Paul II reaffirmed his commitment to continue to serve the Church as Pope. He said, "Even here in the hospital, in the midst of other sick people, to whom I send affectionate thoughts, I continue to serve the Church and all of humanity."
It is possible for a Pope to resign, and provision for it is made in canon law; but the last occasion on which it occurred was nearly 600 years ago, when Gregory XII stepped down at the Council of Constance to resolve the Western Schism, when there were two rival claimants to the Papacy.
There have been many occasions when popes have spent their last years seriously ill and incapacitated: among recent popes, Pius XII and Leo XIII are well-known examples. So the situation which we face today is one which has occurred frequently throughout the Church's history.
Despite his illness, John Paul II continued to lead the Church from his hospital bed, issuing a statement in defence of human life for Italy's Pro-Life Sunday, appointing two Portuguese bishops, accepting the resignation of a South African bishop, and appointing Cardinal Marcisano as President of the Vatican's Labor Office, and Archbishop Michael Miller and Msgr Santos, rector of the Filipino College in Rome, as members of the Pontifical Commission for International Eucharistic Congresses.
For over 25 years, he has run the Church with his mind - which remains crystal clear - not his body. John Paul II needs our prayers, not ill-informed media speculation.
Peter Westmore is the Publisher of 'AD2000'.