CHURCH TXT: RUMORS OF POPE'S DEATH GREATLY EXAGGERATED

MANILA, OCTOBER 9, 2003 (STAR) By Jose Aravilla  - Many Catholic faithful called up church offices yesterday after receiving a text message saying that Pope John Paul II had died.

The convincingly phrased text message spread like wildfire among the 17 million people who had access to cellular phones, many of them Catholics. This prompted the Archdiocese of Manila’s public information office to issue its own text message that the report was not true.

"The Holy Father is ok. He just left the Vatican for Pompeii (also in Rome), where he will celebrate the Eucharist in honor of Our Lady of the Rosary," the text from the Manila archdiocese read.

The prank text message began circulating at noon yesterday and apparently kept on spreading until late in the afternoon.

"The Pope passed away today. The whole world will pray the rosary at 10 p.m. today for his soul, the Church and the new Pope," the prank text message read.

Calls from concerned Catholics also inundated the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines media office. The prank even had one television station asking the CBCP for information on the Pope.

Some of those who received the message were initially convinced that this was true since the Pope has appeared weaker in recent weeks and weathered an intestinal ailment in late September.

Two foreign prelates have already expressed their concern about the Pope being near death.

Despite his frail condition, the Pope has one of the busiest periods in his papacy. Last Sunday, he canonized three saints. After going to Pompeii, he is scheduled to take part in celebrations marking the 25th anniversary of his papacy.

Since the mid-1990s, the Pope has been battling Parkinson’s disease, a progressive neurological disorder, as well as crippling knee and hip ailments.

The Pope’s worsening condition is one of the reasons for his decision to skip the World Meeting of Families held in Manila last January. He last visited the country in January 1995 for the celebration of World Youth Day.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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