Pope Appears Well During Address

Pope John Paul II (search) appeared in good form and spoke in a strong, relatively clear voice during his Sunday address at St. Peter's Square, his second since being released from the hospital 10 days ago.

From his window at the Vatican (search), the 84-year-old pontiff read his entire address, stopping briefly to cough and skipping a Latin prayer but continuing to the end with no apparent problems.

It was a marked contrast from recent speeches in which the pontiff has struggled to catch his breath, often forcing aides to finish for him.

On Sunday, John Paul spoke of the Eucharist and Lent (search) and said he deeply felt the papal duty of "caring for the flock" — another subtle rebuttal to suggestions he might step down because of frail health. The pope also addressed a few words in Slovenian to pilgrims visiting Vatican City.

At the end, he raised his hand in blessing.

"I wish you all a happy Sunday," he said.

The crowd responded with applause and cries of "Viva il papa!" — or "Long live the pope!"

John Paul was rushed to a Rome hospital Feb. 1 with respiratory problems that developed while he was suffering from the flu. The pontiff returned to the Vatican on Feb. 10 to convalesce, and the emergency room doctor who treated his breathing crisis said he had not developed any other complications.

"The recovery time was more rapid than we initially predicted," Dr. Rodolfo Proietti told Avvenire, the daily newspaper of the Italian Bishops Conference, this week.

Since returning to the Vatican, the pontiff's only public appearance was a week ago at St. Peter's Square, when he let an aide read most of his remarks.

The pope's Parkinson's disease makes his speech difficult to understand and hampers proper muscle movement, leaving him stooped. He also has knee and hip problems and no longer walks in public.

John Paul spent this week out of the public eye, in a spiritual retreat at the Vatican for his traditional Lenten period of reflection.

On Saturday, he skipped a Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, where participants were urged to pray for his health to allow him to continue as the leader of the Roman Catholic Church.

In a sign that the pope is resuming more of his activities, John Paul is scheduled to attend a Thursday ceremony in the Apostolic Palace. During the event, the pontiff traditionally proclaims the latest candidates for sainthood.

One of the hallmarks of John Paul's papacy has been the canonization of new role models for Catholics. John Paul has proclaimed more saints in his 25 years as pope than all his predecessors in the past 500 years combined.

The Vatican has not yet said whether John Paul will stick to his usual heavy schedule of appearances during Holy Week, including Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter services, which come in late March.