Pope John Paul II made a surprise appearance from a hospital window in Rome today, waving to the faithful just after a top Vatican official on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica read a statement from the pontiff asking for prayers.
The 84-year-old Pope was wheeled to a hospital window and blessed the crowd by making the sign of the cross in clear gestures as a Vatican photographer snapped pictures.
John Paul, recovering a throat operation to ease a breathing crisis, touched his throat during the minute-long appearance but seemed to be in decent form.
The Pope, wearing his white vestments, sat behind a closed window that shielded him from the cold. Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican’s No. 2 official, stood behind John Paul in his 10th-floor suite at Rome’s Gemelli Polyclinic hospital.
The Pope’s appearance came as he missed leading Sunday prayers for the first time in his 26-year papacy. He showed up in the window moments after the Vatican under-secretary of state, Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, read a statement from John Paul asking for prayers.
“Dear brothers and sisters, once again I address you from the Agostino Gemelli Polyclinic,” John Paul said in the statement.
“I thank you with affection and feel you all spiritually near. I think of you gathered in St. Peter’s Square, alone and in groups that have come, and to all those from every part of the world who are interested in me. I ask you to continue to accompany me, above all with your prayers.”
Referring to his motto “totus tuus”, or “completely yours”, the pope again entrusted himself to the Virgin Mary.
John Paul said the pre-Easter period of Lent “helps us to better understand the value of suffering that, in one way or another, touches us all”.
“And looking at Christ and following him with patient trust, we succeed in understanding that every human form of pain contains in itself a divine promise of salvation and joy,” the Pope said. “I would like that this message of comfort and hope reaches everyone, especially those going through difficult moments, and who suffers in body and spirit.”
Sandri led the ceremony for the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square, serving as a stand-in for the pope, who normally delivers the weekly blessing from a window of his Vatican apartment overlooking the square.
“The Holy Father is not with us, but he is following us from Gemelli,” Sandri said.
All appeared calm at the clinic early today after the Pope’s third night at Gemelli, where he was rushed on Thursday after suffering his second breathing crisis in less than a month. Hours later, doctors decided to perform a tracheotomy to insert a tube in his throat and ease his breathing.
Doctors said the operation was successful but had advised the pope not to speak for several days. Yesterday, John Paul exercised his voice by speaking a few words, the newspaper Il Messaggero reported.
The ANSA news agency said that John Paul’s condition was “satisfactory”. ANSA, which cited unspecified medical sources, said blood tests showed no signs of infection.
Sunday’s Angelus prayer is dear to John Paul, and wherever he has been in the world, he has never missed the noontime blessing – not even after he was shot.
In 1981, after a Turkish gunman attempted to take his life, the Pope found the strength to address the faithful from his hospital room. After he had surgery to remove an intestinal tumour in 1992, the Vatican taped a message and prayer by John Paul and played the recording for the faithful.
Earlier this month, during a previous hospitalisation, the pontiff was strong enough to make a brief appearance and bless the faithful from a hospital window.
The Vatican has not said when John Paul – who has Parkinson’s disease and crippling hip and knee ailments – will be able to leave the hospital. Another medical bulletin is not scheduled until midday tomorrow.