VATICAN CITY – Pope John Paul II (search) made his longest public appearance Wednesday since leaving the hospital after treatment for breathing problems, greeting pilgrims by video hookup after the Vatican canceled his address from his apartment window when rain and winds lashed Rome.
The frail pontiff, convalescing from a recent illness, appeared somewhat gaunt and wheezed as he spoke. But he read the greetings in six languages, sitting in his studio flanked by two aides.
"I greet with affection all of you gathered for the usual Wednesday meeting," he said.
In all, the audience lasted 30 minutes — the longest time the pope has appeared in public since returning to the Vatican (search) on Feb. 11 after spending 10 days in a Rome hospital. Fully alert, he waved and gave his blessing at the end.
Several thousand pilgrims were brought into a Vatican auditorium, where the pope's weekly public audience is held. The crowd, watching the pope on a giant screen, applauded when he spoke.
Originally, the pontiff was scheduled to address and bless them from his apartment window overlooking St. Peter's Square (search).
The 84-year-old pope was rushed to the hospital with breathing difficulties Feb. 1 after suffering a bout of the flu. Since his return to the Vatican, he has been slowly resuming his activities.
John Paul has a busy schedule ahead of him, but the Vatican was holding off immediate confirmation of the pope's participation, deciding a day at a time.
His planned events include audiences with Israeli and Palestinian tourism ministers Friday and the president of Azerbaijan on Saturday.
On Thursday, he is scheduled to participate in a Vatican meeting to approve candidates for sainthood — one of the hallmarks of his papacy. John Paul has proclaimed more saints in his 26 years as pope than all his predecessors in the past 500 years combined.