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Pope's lake cruise delights cottagers

With reports from Michael Valpy and Canadian Press

It was the first day of his first overseas vacation in 24 years. But even though he was away from the office, Pope John Paul still insisted on getting some of God's work done.

The nature-loving pontiff interrupted a boat trip in Ontario's cottage country and caused ripples in Orillia by visiting a home for disabled adults.

The papal entourage, which boarded Blue Sapphire, a 10-metre, three-level yacht that was followed closely across Lake Simcoe by several police boats, first cruised by the Huronia Regional Centre to allow the Pope to wave to its residents. Then the vessel made a broad sweep around and stopped while he blessed and gave rosary beads to the adults and the young summer staff who were out in paddle boats.

"He was sitting there waving and you could see a smile on his face," said Susan Gilchrist, human-resources director at the retreat. "People were in awe."

"We thought he was going to dock [the boat], he came in that close." she said.

Officials at the provincially run centre were told by police early yesterday of the Pope's wish to meet with the residents, Ms. Gilchrist said, adding that the staff was asked to bring them down to the water.

"They asked for a blessing from the Holy Father and then he gave them some rosaries so they were delighted and there was, I would say, a very emotional, touching moment," papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said.

Rev. Arthur Sequeira, an associate pastor at Guardian Angels Roman Catholic Church, said the Pope was about 50 metres from shore and was wearing his customary white vestments and mitre, a bishops headdress. "He looked very calm and very good," Father Sequeira said. "He looked very well-rested and in great shape."

The 82-year-old Pope's love of the outdoors is well-documented. As a youth, Karol Wojtyla spent his days hiking, swimming, kayaking and backpacking near his hometown of Wadowice, Poland.

"He has a great love of the outdoors," said George Weigel, the Pope's American biographer. "A lot of his young ministry was spent literally in the outdoors of Poland.

"[The outdoors] is a lifelong passion of his. [His inability to fully enjoy it] is one of the tragedies of his present physical condition."

The Pope surprised his doubters Tuesday when he arrived at Toronto's Pearson airport and climbed down the stairs from the airplane to the tarmac with only slight help from his aides. He then read his own speech in its entirety.

The Pope has Parkinson's disease, osteoperosis, arthritis, hip and knee ailments, hearing problems and suffers the effects of a 1980 assassination attempt.

He Pope is spending most of his time on Strawberry Island, a retreat run by the Basilian Fathers on Lake Simcoe, north of Toronto. Pictures posted on the Internet suggest the lodging has little of the ritz and comfort to which the ailing religious leader would have been accustomed in Rome.

John Paul is "delighted, really, with the beauty of the place," Mr. Navarro-Valls said.

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