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Pope Appears, But Does Not Speak

Nothing is as usual for Pope John Paul this Holy Week, the most important time of the religious calendar for Roman Catholics.

He was not well enough to celebrate Mass at St. Peter's on Palm Sunday, for the first time ever in his 26-year-long papacy, but the pontiff has been doing his best to participate as much as he can.

On Palm Sunday, and again on Wednesday, John Paul instead appeared at his window and blessed the many well-wishers waiting below in St. Peter's Square in Vatican City.

The Vatican has not named a stand-in for the pope in the Good Friday Way of the Cross procession at the Colosseum, raising the possibility that he might participate in some way, although it appears doubtful he will go to the site.

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

Wednesday's blessing was instead of the public audience the pope usually holds, but was forced to cancel because of his fragile health.

Thousands of pilgrims waited below the third floor window until a gaunt-looking pontiff emerged after a 15-minute delay that was not explained by the Vatican.

John Paul raised his hand in blessing a few times but didn't speak.

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.

Ten 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.

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 has made four public appearances since being discharged from the hospital, including on Palm Sunday when he pressed his hand to his head and pounded a lectern in apparent frustration over his difficulty in responding to the crowd.

The pope's appearance in 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.