Pope to Visit Armenia On Friday

LOWICZ–Poland (Reuters)–Pope John Paul has extended his visit to Poland by a day to fit in a visit to the country’s holiest shrine and will fly on directly to Armenia to see the ailing His Holiness Karekin I–Catholicos of All Armenia’s–the Vatican said on Monday.

It was the first time any of the Pope’s 87 overseas trips had been extended while he was traveling. The 14 days the Pope will have spent away from the Vatican make this trip one of the longest he has made.

The surprise trip to Armenia will be the Polish Pope’s second visit to the former Soviet Union after a 1993 tour of the Baltic states.

The Pope wants to express his spiritual closeness with Catholicos Karekin I in a moment of suffering–the Vatican told reporters at Lowicz–south of Warsaw–where the Pope said mass on the 10th day of his visit to Poland.

The head of the Armenian Apostolic church is suffering from cancer and his illness had led the Vatican to postpone a trip to Armenia planned for July 2-4.

The Pope will spend just a few hours in Yerevan and Etchmiadzin. He will meet the Catholicos and Armenia’s President Robert Kocharian before returning to Rome on Friday evening.

The personal decision by the 79-year-old Pope to prolong his journey appeared to indicate he was in reasonable health–despite a fall on Saturday when he cut his head and needed three stitches.

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