VATICAN CITY – For the first time in his 26-year-pontificate, Pope John Paul II (search) will skip Sunday prayers, and will instead follow along with the traditional ceremony from a hospital where he is recovering from a throat operation to ease a breathing ailment.
Vatican officials said Saturday that there were also no plans for the 84-year-old pontiff to make any public appearances at the hospital during Sunday's Angelus blessing.
The prayer will be read by Vatican (search) undersecretary of state Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, who will deliver a blessing to the faithful in St. Peter's Square (search), said papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls. "The Holy Father will join the Angelus prayer from his room at the Gemelli Polyclinic," he said.
Sunday's prayer comes after the pope's third night in hospital care. At sunrise on Sunday, all appeared calm at the clinic.
John Paul was rushed to Gemelli on Thursday after his second breathing crisis in less than a month. Hours later, doctors decided to perform the tracheotomy to ease his breathing.
Doctors said the operation was successful but have advised the pope not to speak for several days. On Saturday, John Paul exercised his voice by speaking a few words, the newspaper Il Messaggero reported Sunday.
The ANSA news agency said Saturday evening that John Paul's condition was "satisfactory." ANSA, which cited unspecified medical sources, said blood tests showed no signs of infection.
Sunday will be the first time the pope will neither appear nor have his voice heard at an Angelus service, a weekly tradition that is dear to John Paul. In 1981, after being shot by a Turkish gunman, the pope found the strength to address the faithful from his hospital room. After he had surgery to remove an intestinal tumor in 1992, the pope taped a message and prayer for the faithful. Earlier this month, during a previous hospitalization, the pontiff was strong enough to make a brief appearance.
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 — who has Parkinson's disease and crippling hip and knee ailments — will be able to leave the hospital, and another medical bulletin is not scheduled until midday Monday.
"I am worried as if he was a member of my family," Mario Gaetano, a hospital visitor, said Sunday.
"He is a bit like everyone's grandfather. I think he will get well this time, too," he said. "We don't want to imagine the worst."
Pier Ferdinando Casini, the president of Italy's lower house of parliament, told reporters after a visit to the hospital Saturday that he found "an atmosphere of serenity." Casini added that Italian officials had confidence that the pontiff would recover.
The faithful expressed disappointment tinged with hope that the pope could still carry on.
"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.
Flowers and letters wishing the pope a speedy recovery have been flooding the hospital. On Saturday, an Argentine-born sculptor left a gift for John Paul: a wooden sculpture of the head of a suffering Christ.
About 100 hospital workers, medical students and patients in their dressing gowns and slippers gathered in the hospital chapel Saturday evening for an hour-long prayer for the pontiff.
Each detail of John Paul's condition was shadowed by uncertainty, including how long the device inserted in his throat would remain and whether the pope would eventually regain full command of his voice.
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.
This 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 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."