ROME – Pope John Paul II (search) is breathing more easily and could be fit enough by Sunday to make his weekly address to the faithful over an audio hookup from the Rome hospital treating him for the flu and respiratory troubles, the Vatican (search) said.
The 84-year-old pope spent a third restful night at the Gemelli Polyclinic hospital, where he was being closely watched for any complications, the Vatican said Friday.
Vatican radio said the pope was in stable condition but had canceled a meeting Friday with the president of the European Parliament (search).
"The pope has shown a great courage in sickness, in old age, and we can say, going toward death," Vatican Radio head Federico Lombardi said in an interview with Italian state broadcaster RAI.
The pope's age and Parkinson's disease make his flu more dangerous.
On Thursday, papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls suggested the pope might spend up to a week at the clinic's tightly guarded papal suite, telling reporters, "When I've had the flu, it lasts seven days."
Still, the pontiff may soon return to at least one of his official tasks. Vatican officials said they were thinking of installing an audio link Sunday so John Paul can make his weekly address from the clinic rather than from his usual perch in a window above St. Peter's Square.
Since the pope fell ill, best wishes have poured in from around the world — even from the Turkish gunman who shot the pope in St. Peter's Square in 1981. Mehmet Ali Agca's handwritten note from prison wished the pope "a speedy recovery."
The assassination attempt was the first major health crisis for the pontiff, once a sportsman fond of skiing and hiking. He suffers from crippling hip and knee ailments as well as Parkinson's, all of which have left him frail for years.
In Poland, Mieczyslaw Malinski, a priest who has known the pope since childhood, was overjoyed at the news of his improved condition: "I'm happy, my God, how happy," he said.
Parisians attended a special Mass at Notre Dame cathedral.
"I hope he knows we are praying for him, and that we are united with the courage with which he is handling his sickness," said Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, the archbishop of Paris.
At the Vatican, officials insisted the illness is no cause for alarm.
"All he's got is the flu, which has become dangerous because of the Parkinson's," Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, who heads the Vatican's Congregation of Bishops, told the newspaper Corriere della Sera. "But now the danger is over."
The pontiff was rushed by ambulance to Gemelli late Tuesday after suffering what the Vatican called an inflamed windpipe and spasms of the larynx, or voice box, which had made it difficult for him to breathe.
In a medical bulletin Thursday, the Vatican said the pope had spent a restful night and was no longer suffering from throat spasms.
"The Holy Father's general and respiratory conditions show a positive evolution," it said.
Italy's ANSA news agency, citing medical sources at the hospital, said the pope had a few sips of water, which also suggested his throat was more comfortable.
The pontiff participated in a Mass in his room, while about 50 other people — mostly doctors in starched white coats — attended at the hospital's chapel for San Biagio, patron saint of the throat.
The pontiff has for some time been cutting back on his activities, letting aides read his speeches or represent him at events abroad. Still, before coming down with the flu he had not missed a scheduled audience in 16 months, despite his ailments.
"We all are praying for him," said German Cardinal Karl Lehmann, attending a Mass at Rome's Saint John Lateran basilica. "He is a great pope because also his suffering is a message."