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ROMAN CATHOLICS As pope recovers from surgery, another official will lead prayers



Published: Sat, February 26, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



It is the first time the pope will neither appear nor have his voice heard at the service.

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Breaking a tradition he kept even after being shot two decades ago, Pope John Paul II will not lead prayers today for the first Sunday in his 26-year papacy as he recovers from a throat operation to help him breathe.

With the 84-year-old pontiff advised by attending physicians not to speak after surgery to insert a breathing tube and too delicate to appear at his hospital window, a top Vatican official will bless the faithful assembled at St. Peter's Square, the Vatican said Saturday.

The Holy See confirmed the pontiff did not plan to make a brief public appearance at Rome's Gemelli Polyclinic hospital during today's Angelus blessing, a weekly tradition dear to the pope.

Instead, he will "join" the prayers in what the Vatican newspaper called an "Angelus of hope."

While there was no indication the decision signaled any change in the pope's condition, it was a sign of the uncertainty the pope's incapacity may create. The Vatican has not said when John Paul will leave the hospital and another medical bulletin is not scheduled until Monday.

On Saturday evening, the ANSA news agency, citing unspecified medical sources, said the pope's condition was "satisfactory." It also reported that blood tests showed no signs of possible infection.

First absence

Today will be the first time the pope will neither appear nor have his voice heard at an Angelus service.

In 1981, after being shot by a Turkish gunman, he found the strength to address the faithful from his hospital room. After he had surgery to remove an intestinal tumor in 1992, the Vatican taped a message and prayer by John Paul and played the recording for the faithful.

Pier Ferdinando Casini, the president of Italy's lower house of parliament, said after visiting the hospital that Italian officials were confident the pontiff would recover.

"One breathes an atmosphere of serenity," Casini said.

Doctors have advised the pope not to speak for several days as he recovers from tracheotomy surgery. What the Vatican described as "elective" surgery, and not an emergency operation, was performed after his second breathing crisis in less than a month.

Flowers and letters wishing the pope a speedy recovery have been flooding the hospital. On Saturday, an Argentine-born sculptor left a unique gift for John Paul: a wooden sculpture of the head of a suffering Christ.

On Saturday evening, about 100 hospital workers, medical students and patients in their dressing gowns and slippers gathered in the hospital chapel for an hour-long prayer for the pontiff.

"We have to pray for the pope who gives us strength and for all the sick people in the world always, but especially now," said Domenica Virgis, a patient who attended the service.

Uncertainty

Each detail of John Paul's condition was shadowed by uncertainty, including how long the device inserted in his throat would remain and if the pope would eventually regain full command of his voice.

The pope's transport by ambulance to Gemelli on Thursday crushed hopes that he was out of danger after a 10-day hospital stay that ended Feb. 10. Just a day earlier, he made his longest public appearance since leaving the hospital earlier this month.

Papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said the pope showed no sign of fever or pneumonia, either of which could severely complicate recovery.

For the moment, the pope's only means of expression is the written word.

"The important thing is that he can write down his thoughts. Those remain forever," said Sandro Dragone, a patient in a wheelchair in the foyer at Gemelli.




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