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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pope's Health Falters on Armenia Visit

APPope John Paul II and Armenian President Robert Kocharyan gesturing as they talk during the pope?s arrival ceremony in Yerevan.
YEREVAN, Armenia -- Pope John Paul II, looking frail and tired, broke off in the middle of a speech shortly after arriving Tuesday for a three-day visit to pay tribute to Armenia's ancient Christian church.

The pope rebounded at a later private stop in the visit, walking about 50 meters at one point without the use of cane and waving the cane in the air in a sign of good cheer.

On an earlier visit to the Armenian Apostolic Church's seat in Echmiadzin, 25 kilometers west of the capital, the 81-year-old pope's hands shook uncontrollably as he was halfway through his speech in the Apostolic Cathedral.

A priest finished reading John Paul's prepared text as the pope sat slumped on a throne on the cathedral's altar.

Papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said they had planned for the priest to take over and finish the address in Armenian after the pope had delivered the first portion in English. The spokesman did not say whether the pope broke off ahead of schedule.

Such changeovers have been made in the past when the pope was delivering speeches in languages that he does not speak.

The pontiff had arrived in Armenia about 90 minutes earlier from Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, where he had spent four days.

The pontiff, who retains an active travel schedule despite declining health, was stooped as he exited the Air Kazakhstan plane at Zvartnots airport. An aide several times pushed back a part of the pope's white garments that was blowing around his head in a brisk breeze.

The pope suffers from symptoms of Parkinson's disease such as trembling hands and slurred speech.

The pope was met on the airport tarmac by President Robert Kocharyan and the leader of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholicos Karekin II, and the three went to a small covered podium framed by the airport terminal, made of pocked and rain-stained concrete.

John Paul said he had come to honor the "extraordinary witness of Christ borne by the Armenian Apostolic Church through so many centuries and not least in the 20th century, which for you was a time of unspeakable terror and suffering."

Speaking slowly but firmly, the pope continued the trip's emphasis on preventing religious differences from exploding into war and violence, calling for "peace with all men on a solid foundation of mutual respect and justice."

Kocharyan said in the current times of "deplorable manifestations of hatred, [Christianity's] universal values of compassion and brotherly love have added meaning and significance."

The pope's visit is part of ceremonies celebrating the 1,700th anniversary of Christianity as the state religion. Armenia, in 301, became the world's first country to declare itself Christian.

The Armenian and Catholic churches split in a theological dispute over the divine and human natures of Jesus Christ, arising from the fifth-century Council of Chalcedon. But the Armenian church has established friendly relations with both the Vatican and with Orthodox churches.