Pope off to Africa, 1st of 5 trips in '93


VATICAN CITY -- With his doctors' blessing, Pope John Paul II is launching another rigorous year of foreign travel, returning to troubled Africa on the first of five foreign trips scheduled for 1993.

The 8-day swing, starting today, will take the 72-year-old pontiff to Benin, Uganda and war-torn Sudan. It will be his 10th visit to Africa and the 57th foreign journey of a 14-year reign that has made him history's most traveled world leader.

Six months after major surgery to remove a tumor from his intestine, John Paul travels with a clean bill of health following a checkup at the Vatican Jan. 18, aides say.

Frail and almost skeletal when he left the hospital last summer, John Paul has recovered strength, weight and color in recent months. He gets tired in the late afternoons, aides say, but he was lively and looked robust at his general audience a week ago and felt fit enough after Christmas to treat himself to a day's skiing.

Africa, where the Vatican counts 92 million Roman Catholics, about 13 percent of the world total, is an abiding interest for John Paul. He believes that his church and the international community have an obligation to strengthen what he calls "a link of prime importance between democracy, human rights and development."

John Paul's African journey will be followed by a one-day visit to Albania on April 25 for the first ordination of new bishops there since the fall of communism.

In June, he will make a weeklong visit to Spain. In August, he goes to Denver for an international youth festival.

The following month he makes his first visit to what was once the Soviet Union, calling at the Baltic republics of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia.

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