Pope John Paul II has traveled extensively in his 12 years as head of the Roman Catholic church, but perhaps his most controversial trips are ones now in the early planning stages.

The pope's projected itinerary for those trips includes the Soviet Union, South Africa and some delicate diplomacy to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Columbus' arrival in the New World.On Monday, the pope returned from Portugal after thanking the Virgin of Fatima for his survival in an assassination attempt 10 years ago.

While in Portugal, his public statements against Marxism left no doubt that he hoped to rebuild Christianity where it has lost influence as a result of policies of decades of official atheism.

The Vatican's secretary of state, Archbishop Angelo Sodano, told reporters on the return flight the pope was considering "a symbolic trip" to Moscow, to the German ethnic communities of the Soviet republic of Kazakhstan and to Novosibirsk in Siberia.

Later this month a newly appointed Roman Catholic bishop will take possession of his flock and church in Moscow. He is one of nearly 20 bishops appointed in the Soviet Union in the past three years.

The proposed "blitz trip" would skirt heavily Catholic Lithuania and the Ukraine and try to avoid irking the Orthodox church.