Unfazed by reports of plots against him, Pope John Paul II flew to this forest-clad island nation Monday with prayers of encouragement for a young Asian church.
Arriving from a triumphant visit to the Philippines, the 74-year-old pontiff rode from the airport in an open-sided pickup truck, to the delight of a shorts-and-flip-flops crowd and the dismay of security specialists.
Despite police concern here over the whereabouts and intentions of two Iranian businessmen, and Filipino police suspicions of a plot, John Paul declined to ride in a closed car.
Nor were there major changes in an outdoor Mass this morning in which John Paul beatified the region's first potential saint.
Chief Inspector Dennis Samin told reporters Monday night that as John Paul was arriving from Manila, police here became preoccupied with the apparent disappearance of two Iranians.
He said they had entered the country about a month ago but had recently checked out of their hotel and dropped from sight. Samin said there was no record of their departure from the country.
"There is no manhunt. We are just asking them to come forward so that we can check their bona fides. At this stage, it is a routine security inquiry," Samin said. One of the two was said to be in the carpet business and the other in mining and oil exploration.
In Manila on Monday, John Paul's route to the airport was modified at the last moment because "terrorists" had details of the original plans for the Pope's motorcade, police said.
"We found the route of the Pope in the hands of the terrorists," Brig. Gen. Leo Alves, chief of Philippine presidential security, told reporters. While John Paul was in the Philippines, police said two Muslim extremists had been arrested and 20 others were being sought in a plot against the Pope.
Alves refused to give details. "It was a threat on the life of the Pope," he said. "That's all I can say."
Landing here on the second of four stops on his 11-day Asian tour, John Paul told a cheerful airport crowd that it was a "joy to return to this beautiful country," which he last visited a decade ago.
Thousands of people lined the nine-mile motorcade route to salute the Pope on a hot, sticky afternoon. About a third of Papua New Guinea's 4 million people are Roman Catholics.
"It is my desire and purpose to strengthen the Christian faithful of this country," John Paul said, predicting "a new springtime" for Christianity in Asia.
John Paul continues the 63rd foreign visit of his reign Wednesday in Australia. He returns to the Vatican at week's end after a stop in Sri Lanka.
More on the Pope (Southland Edition, A8)
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