John Paul begins visit marking Columbus' landing


SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- Pope John Paul II arrived here last night on a five-day visit planned around the 500th anniversary of Columbus' arrival in the Americas.

In a 10-minute arrival statement, the pope, looking slightly drawn, likened his visit to that of the first missionaries. Then, in a seeming allusion to the bitter dispute over Columbus' legacy, he said he had come on the 500th anniversary of Christianity in the New World "without a spirit of triumphalism, or false shame, but giving thanks to God."

Unlike many of his trips in recent years, the pope, 72, blessed the crowd at a brief ceremony, then retired for a private dinner rather than plunging himself immediately into a busy schedule. It was his first trip abroad since he underwent abdominal surgery in July.

John Paul's schedule -- originally planned to include stops in Jamaica, Nicaragua and Mexico -- was cut back to only the Dominican Republic, the site of the first cathedral in the Western Hemisphere.

Similarly, his schedule here has been drastically reduced. Rather than holding several Masses as he has in past pilgrimages, the pope will limit himself to two gatherings.

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