updated 5/18/2004 8:00:56 AM ET 2004-05-18T12:00:56

Pope John Paul II marked his 84th birthday Tuesday with the publication of his new book, which mixes memories from his native Poland, a touch of self-criticism and a defense of priestly celibacy.

“It will be a regular working day and above all a thanks to God for the gift of life,” said Vatican spokesman Joaquin-Navarro Valls. He reported that the Vatican has been flooded with birthday greetings for John Paul.

The pope has kept up a busy schedule despite Parkinson’s disease and hip and knee ailments. He received visiting American bishops and Prime Minister Jose Durao Barroso of Portugal, whose delegation broke into “Happy Birthday” in Portuguese.

In the evening, John Paul was scheduled to meet with the president of Poland.

“To the ever young custodian of peace,” said the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano in its birthday greeting.

'Get Up, Let Us Go'
In bookstores in Italy and elsewhere, John Paul’s latest literary work “Get Up, Let Us Go” went on sale. It is a sequel to “Gift and Mystery,” an account of the pontiff’s early priesthood that was released in 1996.

It came out a decade after publication of the heavily autobiographical “Crossing the Threshold of Hope,” which sold 20 million copies around the world.

The latest book draws on the pope’s years in Krakow, where — as Karol Wojtyla — he served as bishop and then archbishop, but also touches on his years since his election as the first Polish pope in 1978.

He recalls his passion for the theater and being told he would have been a “great actor,” but said the suffering around him from World War II led him to abandon a career on the stage.

The pope said that those contesting celibacy have raised the issued of the loneliness for priests, but that he personally never felt lonely.

In 1958, the pope recalls, he was on a canoeing trip when he was called to Warsaw by the head of Poland’s Roman Catholic Church, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, to be told he was being named a bishop of Krakow.

Wojtyla made his way by canoe and then in a truck full of flour sacks to the nearest train station for the overnight journey. On hearing of his appointment, he told Wyszynski: “Your eminence, I am too young — I am only 38.”

“The primate responded: ‘This is a weakness of which we are quickly cured. Please do not oppose the Holy Father’s wish,”’ the pope wrote.

Wojtyla then returned to Krakow and asked his archbishop for permission to resume the canoeing trip.

“You are welcome, but please get back for the consecration,” replied the archbishop, Eugeniusz Baziak.

Communist efforts to suppress the church
The book recounts communist efforts to suppress the church in Poland, Wojtyla’s clashes with authorities to protect it and of clandestine meetings he organized with intellectuals and scientists.

The pope recalls a “constant fierce struggle” to get a church built in the industrial Krakow suburb of Nowa Huta, designed as a model socialist town with a steelworks at its heart.

Communist authorities gave, and then revoked, permission for a new church — a decision that resulted in a fight between security forces and residents who had erected a cross.

“In the long term, the battle was won, but at the price of a long war of nerves,” the pontiff writes.

John Paul says he viewed his first trip as pope — to Mexico in January 1979 — as “a pass that could open the way to a pilgrimage to Poland.”

“I thought the communists in Poland would not be able to refuse me a visit to my homeland if I were received by a nation with a secular constitution, such as Mexico had,” he added. That June, the pope made his first visit to Poland.

In a moment of self-criticism, the pope notes that “a part of a pastor’s role is to admonish” and says that maybe he failed to be strict enough during his time in Krakow.

“Maybe I should reproach myself that I did not try to rule enough” in those years, he writes. “But it stems from my character.”

The pope wrote the book in March-August 2003, writing some parts himself in Polish and dictating others.

Italian publisher Mondadori says it is still negotiating the rights for the English-language edition. The royalties from it will go into a special fund for charitable use, Navarro-Valls said.

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