Pope Gives Blessing From Window

Pope John Paul II looked frail but alert as he silently waved from his hospital window and made the sign of the cross to a cheering and weeping throng, marking his second such Sunday appearance since being rushed back to the clinic for throat surgery to ease a breathing problem.

Roman Catholic faithful who gathered beneath the pope's 10th-floor suite at Rome's Gemelli Polyclinic shouted his name, and those watching on a giant screen at St. Peter's Square started dancing at the sight of the ailing pontiff.

Though the 84-year-old pope said nothing from behind the window, which was kept shut to keep out the damp chill, followers made clear they were no less inspired.

"He speaks through his suffering," said Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a German who runs a powerful Vatican office that deals with issues of Catholic doctrine.

"He strengthens us," echoed Marco Antonio Lome, a seminary student from Mexico.

The Vatican, burnishing a new image of the pope as attentive and firmly in command despite his Parkinson's disease and recent breathing troubles, carefully scripted Sunday's appearance. John Paul made a surprise showing at the same window a week ago.

Vatican television first showed the pope slumped in his wheeled throne in his suite while watching on a widescreen TV as Archbishop Leonardo Sandri of Argentina — John Paul's public voice since his hospitalization — read the weekly Angelus prayer and blessing to the faithful across town at St. Peter's.

Minutes later, the blinds over his window opened and a cheer went up from the crowd of about 500 onlookers as John Paul came into view. His white robes concealed his throat, and it was unclear whether the breathing tube doctors inserted in his windpipe after he was rushed by ambulance to Gemelli on Feb. 24 remained in place or had been removed.

The pope seemed to perk up as he repeatedly raised his arms to bless the crowd.

Other patients ventured out onto hospital balconies as a chilly rainfall stopped just before John Paul's appearance. Students chanted, "Never give up!" and carried a banner that read, "Papa, we love you so much."

"We came to make him get well soon, because 'Papa' is our heart," said Regimol Joshi of India, who works in Rome. "I'm sad because he's sick, but I'm happy to see him."

The rainfall resumed immediately after the pope's appearance.

The pope spent 10 days at Gemelli for an earlier bout of breathing trouble and was released Feb. 10, only to be rushed back two weeks later for the throat surgery. He since has been undergoing breathing and speech therapy.

Although the Vatican has not set a date for his release, it has suggested he might be discharged in time for Easter on March 27. Asked when the pope would leave, Ratzinger said it was up to his doctors.

In a greeting read by Sandri, John Paul relayed "my expression of gratitude for all those signs of affection that have reached me."

"I am thinking, in particular, of the numerous cardinals, priests and groups of faithful, of ambassadors and of the ecumenical delegations that have come to the Gemelli Polyclinic in these days," his message said.

The pope thanked Jews and Muslims who have come to the hospital to pray for him, calling their support "a comforting sign, for which I give thanks to God."

In his hometown of Wadowice, Poland, residents held special prayers for John Paul and signed a book of greetings to be delivered to him later this week.

"From the bottom of my little heart, I wish you a quick recovery," wrote a girl named Paulina.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, also prayed for the pope in a Romanian church Sunday and wished him courage.

"Courage is characteristic of him. I think and I pray that he will overcome this difficult time of (his) life and will continue for many years to come," he told Associated Press Television News in an interview.