Pope's Health Remains Precarious

Pope John Paul II waves an olive branch as he appears at the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter's Square at the end of a solemn ceremony to mark Palm Sunday, March 20, 2005, in Vatican City. AP

Nearly 10 days after his discharge from the hospital, Pope John Paul II continues to limit his public appearances, a sign that his recovery from throat surgery to ease a breathing crisis is going more slowly than expected.

The Vatican confirmed Tuesday that John Paul will not hold his traditional audience Wednesday, although it was not known if he would greet pilgrims from his apartment window — a decision the pope would make at the last minute.

John Paul has scaled back his appearances since his back-to-back hospitalizations and has designated cardinals to take his place during this week's busy Holy Week ceremonies. The Vatican has only confirmed one appointment for the pontiff — an Easter Sunday blessing.

The pope did not name a stand-in, however, for a Way of the Cross procession at the Colosseum on Good Friday evening, raising the possibility that he would participate in some fashion, although it appeared doubtful he would go to the site.

Vatican Television officials said they have installed cables and other equipment in the pope's apartment above St. Peter's Square for the possible transmission of a video to be seen by the pilgrims gathered at the Colosseum.

The pope has made three public appearances since being discharged from the hospital — his latest on Palm Sunday when he blessed the crowd silently from his third-floor window. During that appearance, the pontiff pressed his hand to his head and pounded a lectern in apparent frustration over his difficulty in responding to the crowd.

It was the first time in 26 years as pope that he was unable to preside over the Mass ushering in Holy Week, the most important season on the Christian calendar and long one of his favorite appointments.

The 84-year-old pope has been convalescing at the Vatican following Feb. 24 throat surgery to insert a tube in his windpipe and ease his second breathing crisis in less than a month. He also suffers from Parkinson's disease, which affects muscle control and makes it difficult for him to speak clearly.

The pope's gaunt appearance the few times he has been seen has led to speculation in the Italian media that his condition has suffered a sharp setback. Vatican officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, have denied there has been any sudden crisis but acknowledge the convalescence may be behind schedule.

No details on his state of health have been released since the pope's return to the Vatican on March 13.

The Vatican, however, says the pope is carrying out his major duties. On Wednesday, it reported the pope had named a new bishop in Spain. Under church law, only a pope can nominate bishops.

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