Pope Makes Appearance

Pope John Paul II (search) made the sign of the cross from the window of his hospital and greeted hundreds of faithful waiting in the courtyard below for the second Sunday since he was rushed back to the clinic with breathing trouble 11 days ago.

Wearing his white vestments, the 84-year-old pope waved and made the sign of the cross to several hundred cheering pilgrims gathered in the damp chill at a small square with a view of his 10th-floor suite at Rome's Gemelli Polyclinic.

The pope looked alert as he sat behind the closed window, repeatedly raising his arms to bless the crowd, but he did not speak during the three-minute appearance.

John Paul was taken by ambulance to Gemelli with breathing spasms Feb. 1 and was released Feb. 10, only to be rushed back for Feb. 24 throat surgery. He now is undergoing breathing and speech therapy at the clinic, a few miles from the Vatican (search).

With the pope able to say only a few words with difficulty, the Vatican tapped Archbishop Leonardo Sandri — an Argentine from the Holy See's secretary of state office who has become the pope's official voice for the public — to again read out the Sunday prayer known as the Angelus and deliver the blessing to believers gathered at St. Peter's (search).

"Again today I would like to renew my expression of gratitude for all those signs of affection that have reached me," the pope said in a greeting read out by Sandri.

"I am thinking, in particular, of the numerous cardinals, priests and groups of faithful, of ambassadors and of the ecumenical delegations that have come to the Gemelli Polyclinic in these days.

"I desire to give special recognition for the closeness of believers of other religions, chiefly Jews and Muslims. Some of them have wanted to come and pray here at the hospital. This for me is a comforting sign, for which I give thanks to God."

Enthusiastic Catholics danced in St. Peter's Square as the pope was shown on a giant video screen.

At the hospital, where rainfall paused before John Paul's appearance and resumed immediately afterward, patients peered down at the crowd from balconies. Students chanted, "Never give up!" and carried a banner reading, "Papa, we love you so much."

"We came to make him get well soon, because Papa is our heart," said Regimol Joshi of India, who works in Rome. "I'm sad because he's sick, but I'm happy to see him."

The pope made a surprise appearance at Gemelli a week ago, but the Vatican — seeking to reassure the world's 1 billion Roman Catholics that he is recovering — had hinted at a sequel last week and confirmed the plan Saturday.

The Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano captured the anticipation of the faithful with a front-page headline: "The burning wait for that blessing hand."

"Illness doesn't stop him," it said.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a German who runs a powerful Vatican office that deals with issues of Roman Catholic doctrine, told Italy's RAI television, "He speaks through his suffering."

Asked when the pope would leave the hospital, Ratzinger said it was up to his doctors.

John Paul traditionally appears in his studio window overlooking St. Peter's Square at noon Sundays, offering greetings to thousands of pilgrims and tourists gathered below. The Vatican has said it is possible the pope could be back in time for Easter on March 27.

The pope's overall health and recovery are complicated by Parkinson's disease, which causes gradual loss of muscle control and has made speaking difficult long before his latest breathing trouble. He also suffers from crippling hip and knee ailments.