VATICAN CITY – Breaking a tradition he kept even after being shot two decades ago, Pope John Paul II (search) will not lead Sunday prayers for the first time in his 26-year papacy as he recovers from a throat operation to help him breathe.
With the 84-year-old pontiff advised by attending physicians not to speak after surgery to insert a breathing tube and too delicate to appear at his hospital window, a top Vatican official will bless the faithful assembled at St. Peter's Square (search), the Vatican said Saturday.
The Holy See confirmed there were no plans for the pontiff to make a brief public appearance at Rome's Gemelli Polyclinic hospital during Sunday's Angelus blessing, a weekly tradition dear to the pope.
Instead, he will "join" the prayers in what the Vatican newspaper called an "Angelus of hope."
While there was no indication the decision signaled any change in the pope's condition, it was a sign of the uncertainty the pope's incapacity may create. The Vatican has not said when John Paul will leave the hospital and another medical bulletin is not scheduled until Monday.
On Saturday evening, the ANSA (search) news agency, citing unspecified medical sources, said the pope's condition was "satisfactory." ANSA said blood tests showed no signs of possible infection.
Sunday will be the first time the pope will neither appear nor have his voice heard at an Angelus service.
In 1981, after being shot by a Turkish gunman, he found the strength to address the faithful from his hospital room. After he had surgery to remove an intestinal tumor in 1992, the Vatican taped a message and prayer by John Paul and played the recording for the faithful.
Pier Ferdinando Casini, the president of Italy's lower house of parliament, said after visiting the hospital that Italian officials were confident the pontiff would recover.
"One breathes an atmosphere of serenity," Casini said.
Doctors have advised the pope not to speak for several days as he recovers from tracheotomy surgery to insert the breathing tube into his throat. What the Vatican described as "elective" surgery, and not an emergency operation, was performed after his second breathing crisis in less than a month.
Flowers and letters wishing the pope a speedy recovery have been flooding the hospital. On Saturday, an Argentine-born sculptor left a unique gift for John Paul: a wooden sculpture of the head of a suffering Christ.
Each detail of John Paul's condition was shadowed by uncertainty, including how long the device inserted in his throat would remain and if the pope would eventually regain full command of his voice.
The pope's transport by ambulance to Gemelli on Thursday crushed hopes that he was out of danger after a 10-day hospital stay that ended Feb. 10. Just a day earlier, he made his longest public appearance since leaving the hospital.
Papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls did say there was no sign of fever or pneumonia, either of which could severely complicate recovery.
For the moment, the pope's only means of expression is the written word.
"The important thing is that he can write down his thoughts. Those remain forever," said Sandro Dragone, a patient in a wheelchair in the foyer at Gemelli.
However, the image underlines a worry at the Vatican that the pope's ailments will gradually reduce his abilities to communicate and reach out to followers — a hallmark of a 26-year papacy that has included 104 international trips and several best-selling papal books.
The health troubles will likely amplify debate among the world's 1 billion Roman Catholics on a possible papal resignation — something the pope has rejected as he draws comparisons between his suffering and essential elements of Christian faith, such as the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Earlier this month, the Vatican's No. 2, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, declined to rule out the possibility of resignation and said it was "up to the pope's conscience."