Improving Pope hopes to address the faithful

Pope John Paul II’s flu and breathing problems are improving and he is eating regular food, the Vatican said, without giving specifics on when the frail, 84-year-old pontiff might leave the hospital or resume his regular activities.

Pope John Paul II’s flu and breathing problems are improving and he is eating regular food, the Vatican said, without giving specifics on when the frail, 84-year-old pontiff might leave the hospital or resume his regular activities.

One event the pope does not want to skip is his weekly Sunday address to the faithful, said papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls. Today, the Vatican is expected to say exactly how the traditional prayers and address will be carried out.

The Holy See’s latest medical bulletin said the pope’s condition had stabilised and that his breathing had improved. Otherwise, it gave few details on the flu and respiratory troubles that led to the 84-year-old pontiff’s urgent hospitalisation on Tuesday night.

It was unclear when the pope began eating. Navarro-Valls, who refused to elaborate on virtually any point of yesterday’s bulletin, said only: “Certainly today, maybe yesterday evening, but certainly today.” The next health bulletin is not expected until Monday.

John Paul cancelled a meeting yesterday with Josep Borrell, the president of the European Parliament. Borrell met instead with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano, as will US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice when she visits Tuesday, officials said.

The Vatican dashed expectations the pope might address a long-planned gathering of seminarians at the Vatican today by a hook-up from his 10th-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 traditional Sunday prayer appearances are particularly important to John Paul, saying: “It is something he doesn’t want to miss.”

Usually, John Paul addresses a crowd from a window above St. Peter’s Square. The diocese of Rome has urged the faithful to turn out anyway in the vast square, where the Angelus – as the noon prayer is called – might appear 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 patients because they often have swallowing mishaps where food or saliva go down to the lungs instead of the stomach.

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