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Still sunburned from his tour of the Philippines, Pope John Paul II celebrated an open-air Mass before a heated altar in Anchorage.

The pontiff Thursday ended his 12-day Far East tour in a swirling snowstorm in Nagasaki, Japan, where bitter cold forced him to halt communion until he could warm his fingers.

In Anchorage Friday (Far East time), the temperature was 25 when the pope stepped off his jet to an airport greeting of some 300 people. He was given a sealskin parka, which he immediately put on.

His 3½-hour stopover in Alaska — the first time any pontiff has visited the 49th state — included a Mass at Delaney Strip Park and a prayer service with Protestant and Catholic clergy.

BEFORE he headed across the Pacific toward Anchorage, the pontiff ended his "pilgrimage of peace" in Nagasaki, where he praised the 45,000 people who attended the mass, saying in Japanese, "You are very courageous to have stood up to this cold and you are worthy of your ancestors, the martyrs."

Some 300 sought first aid, including 15 who were hospitalized for frostbite.

The pope baptized 77 Japanese. One of them, Michael Sugiyushi Hashigushi, was described by church officials as a "Hidden Christian," a descendant of the Japanese who secretly kept their religion during 200 years of persecution.

Repeating his theme of peace, the pontiff comforted elderly victims of the bombing of Nagasaki at a home run by the Catholic Church. One woman mopped tears that were streaming down her face as she told of how the pope had asked about her health and blessed her.

John Paul said, "It is with deep emotion that I greet today all those who still carry in their bodies the signs of the destruction that was visited on them on the day of the unforgettable fire."

When he left the mountain-top home, the man the Japanese Catholics call "papa-san" heard the shout, "Banzai, banzai, banzai."

THERE WAS no doubt about the effect the pope had on the elderly patients; there was no doubt about the effect he had on the devout at the Mass in Nagasaki.

But church officials wondered whether the pope's visit would have any lasting effect on their community — a community one priest described as "minuscule."

After 100 years of evangelizing, the Catholic Church has fewer than 400,000 members in a population of 117 million.

Some priests doubted whether the pope's visit would increase the number of believers in . this overwhelmingly Buddhist and Shintoist nation.

But another priest said, "It really takes the pope to put the church on the map."

THE VISIT received comprehensive and uncritical coverage by the Japanese press, according to Father Alfonso M. Nebreda, a professor at Tokyo's Sophia University.

"There seems to have been some kind of tacit agreement by the media that 'this is something we have to cover,' " Nebreda said, adding that the coverage was far greater than the "minuscule" church should have merited.

Nebreda, who has worked in Japan and the Far East for more than three decades, said the visit was critical because of the special nature of the Japanese.

"With the Japanese, you cannot get anywhere through verbal or mental argument. But if you somehow can get to their heart, you can say anything. You need the personal touch," he said. "The pope's visit is going to open their eyes in unprecedented ways.

"If I sound optimistic, it is in spite of my natural reserve. But, still, I do believe that we could have a landslide."

POPULARITY is the key, another priest said. He told a reporter, "The trend (to have church weddings) has become fashionable.

"People sometimes say the Japanese are born Shintoist and die as a Buddhist," he said. "But, in fact, they do more than that these days. They are born Shintoist, marry like a Christian and die as a Buddhist."

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