VATICAN CITY – Pope John Paul II (search) will give a silent blessing Sunday from a window of the hospital where he is recovering after throat surgery to ease his second breathing crisis in a month, the Vatican confirmed Saturday.
"John Paul II will join the Angelus prayer from his hospital room, and at the end he will bless the faithful present at Gemelli Polyclinic the same way as last Sunday," papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said in a statement.
He said Archbishop Leonardo Sandri (search) — an Argentine from the Holy See's secretary of state office who has become the pope's official voice for the public — would read out the traditional weekly prayer and deliver a blessing to believers gathered at St. Peter's Square.
The 84-year-old pope made a surprise appearance at Gemelli a week ago, waving and giving the sign of the cross to pilgrims gathered beneath his 10th-floor suite. He is recovering from a Feb. 24 surgery to insert a breathing tube in his throat.
The pontiff spent a tranquil night at the hospital, the ANSA news agency reported early Saturday without citing sources.
Even when he can't speak, the pope's appearances reassure the faithful, said the Rev. John Wauk, a professor at Rome's Opus Dei University of Santa Croce.
"For the faithful, it's not that the blessing is somehow different when the pope blesses them from the hospital," he told Associated Press Television News. "Actually I would say for the faithful is an opportunity to show their love and affection for the pope. In this sense, it's almost a blessing from the faithful to the pope."
The Holy See (search) said this week it was possible the pope could be released in time for Easter, which falls on March 27. Navarro-Valls said the Vatican was going ahead with its regular Easter schedule, and that if the pope was released beforehand, his level of participation would still have to be worked out.
But with the pope now limited to silent appearances from the hospital, and the Vatican refusing to set a date for his discharge, his role in the flurry of Holy Week services remained in question.
His presence at the Vatican during Holy Week, which begins on March 20 with Palm Sunday, would be important for the world's 1 billion Roman Catholics.
Palm Sunday involves the traditional blessing of palms recalling the biblical account of Christ riding a donkey into Jerusalem, cheered by people waving palm fronds. There is also a procession and a Mass at St. Peter's Square.
On March 24, the Vatican will mark Holy Thursday with a Mass at St. Peter's Basilica, followed by Good Friday with an evening outdoor Way of the Cross procession at the Colosseum.
A three-hour evening Easter Vigil service at St. Peter's precedes Easter Sunday, where the pope traditionally presides over a Mass in the square followed by a blessing and his "Urbi et Orbi" message to Romans and the rest of the world.
The grueling schedule had led to some speculation that the Vatican would seek to keep John Paul in the hospital until after Easter to give him more time to recover without having to cancel anything.
But the Easter season is dear to the pope — particularly the Way of the Cross procession and the "Urbi et Orbi" speech — and a new image of the papacy has been emerging since his latest health crisis, emphasizing the power of his presence over the spoken word.
Several top officials have noted that even if he is unable to read a homily, recite a verse or deliver a blessing, he can still preside over a Mass or participate in what the church calls a concelebration.
The pope's overall health and recovery are complicated by Parkinson's disease, which causes gradual loss of muscle control. He also suffers from crippling hip and knee ailments.
John Paul was taken by ambulance to Gemelli with breathing spasms on Feb. 1 and was released on Feb. 10, only to be rushed back again on Feb. 24 for the throat operation. He has begun extensive speech and respiratory therapy.