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Pope makes first trip since surgery today

Pope John Paul II flies to the Dominican Republic today on his first trip abroad since undergoing major surgery three months ago.

The much slower pace of his visit to the Caribbean nation, to mark the 500th anniversary of the introduction of Christianity to America, could mark a new phase in the papacy for a man who has made grueling travel a trademark.

It will be the 72-year-old pontiff's first trip since doctors removed a large intestinal tumor in July that was begining to turn malignant.

He will preside at only one or two main events a day _ a far cry from his previous 55 foreign trips when he sometimes visited four cities in an 18-hour workday.

On the island where Christopher Columbus established his New World base, the pope will hold a major meeting with the region's Roman Catholic bishops to chart the future of the church in Latin America and decide how to confront poverty and injustice.

Although he will be in the Dominican Republic on Columbus Day, the Vatican has insisted he will not be commemorating the start of colonial rule.

The Polish-born pontiff has said the anniversary should be celebrated "without triumphalism."

The trip's most controversial event may be a huge open-air Mass the pope will celebrate Monday in the shadow of Columbus's Lighthouse _ a multimillion-dollar structure throwing a laser image of a cross into the night sky.

Critics say the estimated $70-million spend on the lighthouse could have been put to better use in the hemisphere's fourth-poorest country.

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