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 CNS Story:

VATICAN LETTER Mar-11-2005 (830 words) Backgrounder. xxxi

With formality or familiarity, tens of thousands e-mail pope

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- With the greatest formality or the most relaxed familiarity, with hints of amazement at modern technology or total ease, tens of thousands of people sent e-mail messages to Pope John Paul II.

They offered prayers for the pope's health, expressed hope that he would be released soon from Rome's Gemelli hospital, but also asked to be remembered in his prayers.

The pope was hospitalized Feb. 24 and underwent a tracheotomy to help ease breathing difficulties; the Vatican said he was expected to be back at the Vatican by March 20 for Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Easter celebrations.

The Vatican Secretariat of State reported that between March 1-10, more than 43,500 e-mail messages had been sent to the pope's six electronic addresses: john_paul_ii@vatican.va, juan_pablo_ii@vatican.va, as well as the Portuguese, Italian, German and French versions of the pope's name.

They begin "Your Holiness," or "My very, very dear John Paul II," "Esteemed Holy Father," or simply "Hola" (Hello).

Most are text messages, but a few, like the one sent by Sister Sylvia, are e-cards.

The Spanish-speaking nun's card was illustrated with a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She wrote, "Holy Father, May God bless you. I pray for your health. I keep you in my prayers and ask for yours."

With no dedicated address for Polish writers, the Vatican said it is impossible to give an accurate count of messages from the 84-year-old pope's compatriots; their messages are scattered throughout the six inboxes.

The Vatican's e-mail server is handling a constant flow of messages from around the world; for example, between midnight and 9:45 a.m. March 11 another 283 messages in English and 170 in Spanish arrived.

The messages are distributed to the appropriate language desk in the Vatican Secretariat of State. Each one is read, a summary is prepared for the pope and sample messages are printed for him.

The Vatican released some samples to journalists March 11, blacking out the sender's e-mail address and last name.

The e-mail messages come from individuals, families and groups, including ones from a seminary in South Africa, a retreat center in Ireland and the staff of a parish in Mexico.

A message dated March 10 came from 14 second-graders in Louisiana who are about to make their first Communion.

"We saw on television that you were in the hospital and not feeling very well," they wrote.

They told the pope that when they receive their first Communion "April 3 at the 9 a.m. CST Mass" they would be praying for the pope and hoping he would be praying for them.

A Mexican woman named Maria wrote March 11 that she had sent her personal greetings a week earlier, but when she told the residents of a home for the elderly that it was possible to e-mail the pope they demanded she write on their behalf.

"It was a motive of happiness and comfort for them to know they could send you a message by e-mail," she wrote. "Here, like throughout Mexico, we intensely love our pope, the image on earth of Jesus, our lord and savior."

A woman from the Archdiocese of Atlanta wrote, "I know that you are going through many struggles, but you are an amazing man and God has surely given you the grace to carry on the good fight."

She prayed God would give him the strength to continue his ministry and added that she hoped she would be able to see him in June when she plans to attend the June 29 Vatican Mass during which Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta will receive the pallium, a woolen stole given to archbishops.

Other messages read:

-- "We need your guidance in this tumultuous world."

-- "We pray for the miracle of your recovery and all your intentions, especially to go to Russia."

-- "Thank you for being a model of prayer and of strength amid trial."

-- "I just found your e-mail address and wanted to tell you I pray for your health."

-- "Your courage in the face of physical suffering is a good example for all of us and particularly for our son, Guillaume, who has been in a psychiatric hospital for two years."

-- "We are confident that with the help of heaven, a bit of medicine and your robust Polish spirit you will return quickly to showing us the path of light."

-- "I want to take this opportunity to ask you to bless me in my university studies, health for my family, a job for my unemployed brothers and blessings for my house and my country, Colombia."

A mother from Italy wrote about seeing the joyful faces of children who got a glimpse of the pope March 9 at Gemelli hospital.

"This is why you must continue to fight every day for all of us, even if from a hospital bed," she wrote. "Best wishes, Holy Father."


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