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Pope's Will Shows He Felt Weight of Office

The last will and testament of Pope John Paul II was released by the Vatican on Thursday. The document, which was written in instalments over more than two decades, shows the pope considered resigning in 2000.

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Pope John Paul II completed the will over two decades

John Paul II's will, about 15 pages long and written in his native Polish, said he left no material property and asked that his personal notes be burned. He asked that the things he used in his daily life be distributed "as seen fit."

In the last entry, during the Catholic Church's Jubilee Year in 2000, the pope suggested that he was suffering under the burden of ill health -- the effects of his Parkinson's disease were already apparent -- and that he wrestled with the question of whether or not to resign after leading the church into the new millennium.

Papst Johannes Paul II. gestorben

Pope John Paul II during the General Audience in Vatican City, Wednesday March 24, 2004.

He wrote that he hoped the Lord "would help me understand until what moment I have to continue in this service to which he called me on the day of 16 October, 1978" -- a reference to the date that he was elected Pontiff.

However, he appears to have decided to leave the decision to God, who he said had saved him from the assassination attempt in 1981. He asked God to "re-call him when He saw fit."

If he had resigned, he would have been the first pope to do so by his own choice in 700 years.

Spiritual matters

Most of the will was devoted to spiritual matters, although he did ask that his long-time secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, to oversee the burning of his personal notes. As for personal property, the pope wrote that he was "not leaving behind any property of which it should be necessary to take care of."

Papast Johannes Paul II. auf einem vom Vatikan herausgegebenen Foto zeigt das schwerkranke Oberhaupt der Katholiken von hinten

Pope John Paul II holds a crucifix as he follows on video-link the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) torchlight procession in front of Rome's Colosseum from his chapel in his private apartments at the Vatican, Good Friday, March 25, 2005.

In repeated passages, John Paul II wrote that he entrusted himself to God and the Madonna, saying his life was in their hands. He said at several places that he was ready to die at any time.

The will also asks that he be buried in "the bare earth, not in a tomb," a request the Vatican is honouring with his burial beneath St. Peter's Basilica on Friday.

Two decades

The document was begun in 1978, one year after becoming pope. Its last entry was in March of 2000. Each entry was written during Lent, a period of reflection during the church calendar that precedes Easter.

Testament des Papstes Johannes Paul II, Rabbi Elio Toaff

Emeritus Chief Rabbi of Rome Elio Toaff is seen greeting Pope John Paul II after a concert in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican, in this Jan. 17, 2004 photo.

John Paul mentioned only two living people in his will. One, his personal secretary Dziwisz, he thanked profusely for his years of service. He also singled out the "rabbi of Rome" -- a reference to the former chief rabbi of Rome, Elio Toaff (photo), who hosted the pontiff during his historic visit to Rome's central synagogue in 1986.

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