Pope's condition continues to improve

Pope John Paul is improving, eating regular food for the first time and anxious to recite his usual prayers for the public Sunday, the Vatican said today.

Pope John Paul is improving, eating regular food for the first time and anxious to recite his usual prayers for the public Sunday, the Vatican said today.

But the Holy See held back from saying how he would deliver his weekly remarks.

The Vatican’s latest medical bulletin gave few details on the flu and respiratory troubles that led to the 84-year-old pontiff being rushed to hospital four days ago, although papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls suggested that the decision not to issue another bulletin until Monday was a positive sign.

“The state of health of the Holy Father has improved,” he said.

Despite the reassuring tones, there were indications the Vatican was being cautious about any predictions when the frail pontiff, who has Parkinson’s disease and other ailments, may resume his regular activities.

Navarro-Valls has suggested John Paul may spend a week in Rome’s tightly guarded Gemelli Polyclinic.

The Vatican dashed expectations the pope might address a long-planned gathering of seminarians at the Vatican on Saturday by a hook-up from his tenth-floor room in the Roman Catholic hospital. Instead, an emissary will read a speech in the Pope’s name.

Navarro-Valls did stress, however, that the pope’s Sunday appearances – when he recites noon prayers and reads a message – are particularly important to John Paul, saying: ”It is something he doesn’t want to miss.”

He said the Vatican would say tomorrow exactly how it would be carried out. A member of the papal entourage at the hospital said the Pope’s difficulty speaking is one of the problems in deciding how to handle Sunday’s address, a papal tradition that John Paul rarely has skipped.

The diocese of Rome has urged the faithful to turn out in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, where the Angelus – as the noon prayer is called – could be broadcast on a giant screen.

The Pope’s age and Parkinson’s disease make his flu more dangerous, and doctors were watching him closely for any signs of complications. Chest infections are common in Parkinson’s disease patients because they often have difficulty swallowing.

Father Federico Lombardi, who heads Vatican radio, said today: “The Pope has shown a great courage in sickness, in old age, and we can say, going toward death.”

It was unclear when the pope began eating. Navarro-Valls, who refused to elaborate on virtually any point of the health bulletin, said only: “Certainly today, maybe yesterday evening, but certainly today.”

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