Pope John Paul II Celebrates 83rd Birthday

May 20, 2003 10:21 AM EDT

VATICAN CITY - Pope John Paul II celebrated his 83rd birthday with thousands of his fellow Poles at a canonization Mass, May 18. He received birthday greetings in Latin from one of his closest advisers, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, and loud applause from the crowd of tens of thousands when he arrived for the service at St. Peter's Square.

John Paul who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, crippling knee and hip ailments sat in hydraulic chair while celebrating the Mass. The Vatican officially acknowledged the degenerative neurological disorder on Saturday; Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, head of the Congregation of Bishops, said that prayer allows the pope to cope with the ailment.

During the service, two Poles and two Italians - all founders of religious orders - were elevated to sainthood. John Paul has already proclaimed 469 saints, making him the greatest saint-maker in the Church's history.

The birthday celebration is one of a series of milestones for John Paul, who recently became the fourth longest-serving pope in history. A visit to Croatia next month will be his 100th foreign tour, while the Church is preparing to mark his 25th anniversary as pontiff on Oct. 16.

By Pauline J.