A healthy-looking Pope John Paul joked with pilgrims after his Angelus message Monday at the papal summer residence south of Rome.

The pope, who arrived in Castel Gandolfo Monday for a brief visit, had a lively response for crowds cheering "Long live the pope.""Let's hope for the best. With that kind of cheer it will be hard to die," the 74-year-old pontiff said. "But that moment will come."

The pope, dogged by health problems for two years, has often joked about his physical state. He is still recovering from an operation last April to repair a broken thigh bone after he slipped in his Vatican bath.

Pope John Paul poked fun at the crowds who praised him. Pilgrims screamed: "You are like the spring," and the pope responded, "There's no spring around here - it's too cold."

The pope delivered the Angelus message in honor of the Roman Catholic feast day of St. Stephen, a national holiday in Italy.