Pope celebrates 84th birthday with new book

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The Independent Online

Pope John Paul II turned 84 yesterday, beaming as well-wishers sang "Happy Birthday" and thanking God for the "gift of life".

The frail pontiff insisted on keeping up his regular schedule, meeting government leaders, American bishops and a delegation of the faithful, but had a birthday lunch and cake with close aides.

The occasion was also marked by the publication of his latest book.

John Paul, who marked 25 years as Pope in October and is the third-longest serving pontiff, has Parkinson's disease and hip and knee ailments. He plans a two-day trip to Switzerland early next month, his first foreign travel since a pilgrimage to Slovakia in September.

Yesterday he received visiting American bishops and Prime Minister Jose Durao Barroso of Portugal, whose delegation broke into "Happy Birthday" in Portuguese. In the evening, John Paul met the President of Poland.

"To the ever young custodian of peace," said the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano in its birthday greeting.

And John Paul's latest literary work Get Up, Let Us Go went on sale yesterday. It mixes memories from his native Poland, with a touch of self-criticism and a defence of priestly celibacy, and is a sequel to Gift and Mystery , an account of the pontiff's early priesthood published in 1996.

A decade before, the Pope's autobiographical Crossing the Threshold of Hope , sold 20 million copies.

The latest book draws on the Pope's years in Krakow, where - as Karol Wojtyla - he served as bishop and archbishop, but also touches on his years since his election as the first Polish Pope in 1978.

He recalls his passion for the theatre and being told he would have been a "great actor", but said suffering from the Second World War led him to abandon a stage career.

In a moment of self-criticism, the Pope notes that "a part of a pastor's role is to admonish" and says that maybe he failed to be strict enough during his time in Krakow. The book's royalties will go to a fund for charities.