VATICAN CITY—Concerned handlers for Pope John Paul II announced Monday that, in recent weeks, the 78-year-old Catholic leader has "just been blessing everything in sight."
The frail pope has been confined to bed ever since his Jan. 28 return from North America.
"We are, of course, very concerned for His Holiness' mental condition," said chief papal physician Giuseppe Clementi, standing by the pope's bedside, surrounded by dozens of newly consecrated pill bottles, urine-specimen cups and orthopedic slippers. "Pretty much anything you hold up in front of his face these days, he blesses."
Vatican handlers said they first noticed signs of papal deterioration on Jan. 26, as he deplaned at St. Louis' Lambert International Airport upon his arrival in the U.S. After descending the airplane staircase and kissing the runway, as is papal tradition, the pope broke free of his handlers and blessed a luggage cart, a podium, a Life photographer's camera, the plane's left-side landing gear, three TWA flight attendants, and two of the Swiss Guard who were attempting to release his grip on the landing struts and subdue him. Upon realizing that he was being physically restrained, the pope worked his papal-signet-ring-bearing right hand free and blessed the entire aircraft, which now resides in its own special five-story grotto under St. Peter's Basilica.
The pope's blessing rampage also necessitated the construction a 40,000-square-foot reliquary for the storage of thousands of now-holy items. Housed in the structure are such hallowed objects as the Blessed Vacuum Cleaner Of St. Matthew, the Consecrated Ball Of Crumpled-Up Paper, and the Sacred Zagnut Bar Of Christ, which the pope discovered and blessed during his recent U.S. visit.
The only artifacts not stored in the reliquary are those of medical necessity, which have been left in the pope's room. These include the Most Holy Intravenous Saline Drip, Maria The Day Nurse Of The Blessed Virgin, and the Electroencephalogram and Electrocardiogram Of St. Peter and St. Paul.
"That which the Vicar of Christ has sanctified becomes a holy object and must be used for no other purpose," Clementi said. "Therefore, it is unthinkable to commit the mortal sin of sacrilege by, for instance, either restraining the pope from the consecration of his strained beets or emptying the bedpans once he has filled and blessed them."
Though concerned about the pope's erratic behavior, Vatican staffers did not admit to a loss of morale.
"The pope's condition may be somewhat disconcerting to those of us charged with his care, but it is no doubt God's will," said papal drool-bib acolyte Thomassini Moretti, a nine-year veteran of Vatican spoon-feedings. "I have seen many mysterious things in the service of the Lamb of God, and I must trust that my wristwatch, lunch sack and right leg have become holy artifacts as part of some divine plan that I was not meant to comprehend."
Moretti said he first noticed changes in the pope in May 1996, when he held a much-publicized public baptism of pigeons and stray dogs in Rome's Trevi Fountain. Later that year, he made headlines again when he announced the excommunication of Big Boy and released a controversial papal bull condemning "picnic apes."