VATICAN CITY – Pope John Paul II (search) is likely to be released from the hospital in time for Holy Week services that begin with Palm Sunday on March 20, the Vatican said Monday.
Papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said the pope has suffered no complications since Feb. 24 surgery to insert the tube in his windpipe and ease his second breathing crisis in a month. But he said doctors have cautioned John Paul not to use his voice too much to ensure he makes a complete recovery.
Navarro-Valls said doctors would decide when the tube could be removed. Once the 84-year-old pontiff is back at the Vatican (search), officials will determine his participation in the week of services leading up to Easter on March 27, the spokesman said.
"The general conditions of the Holy Father continue to improve, which allows the pope to spend long periods of the day in an armchair," the Vatican's latest medical bulletin said.
"No complications have arisen because of the tracheotomy surgery. Continual improvement can also be seen in speaking, thanks to the daily rehabilitation," it said. But it added that "doctors have prescribed a prudent limitation in the pope's use of his voice" to help his larynx, or voicebox, recover.
The Vatican said it would issue its next health update on Thursday.
Roman Catholics worldwide have been awaiting word on whether the pope was making a strong enough rebound to participate in the run-up to Easter, the most important date on the Christian calendar.
John Paul has Parkinson's disease (search), a progressive neurological disorder which affects muscle control, making speech and physical movement difficult. The increasing immobility, along with the stooped posture, suffered by Parkinson's patients makes them highly vulnerable to medical complications such as breathing problems.
On Sunday, the 84-year-old pontiff made a silent appearance at a window of his 10th-floor suite in the second such appearance since he was rushed by ambulance to Gemelli.
Faithful outside the hospital cheered when the pontiff waved, made the sign of the cross and gave his blessing at noon Sunday, the same hour when he traditionally appears to crowds in St. Peter's Square from his Vatican studio window.
Pilgrims gathered at St. Peter's danced as the pope, looking frail but alert, appeared on a giant video screen.
"He looks like he always does to me. He looks like he's fine," said American visitor Linda Sharp, who was among the faithful in the square, where an archbishop read a message from John Paul giving thanks for those who have prayed for him.
"He speaks through his suffering," said Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a German who is a close aide to the pope.
Doctors caring for the pope at Gemelli haven't been speaking with reporters, though they often spoke during the pope's many other hospitalizations throughout his 26-year papacy. Instead, the Vatican has been issuing medical updates every few days.
Prelates and rank-and-file faithful have been making pilgrimages to Gemelli in hopes of seeing the pope or hearing news about his condition as well as giving his morale a boost.
"We came to show our dear pope that we love him," said Severine Niwemugizi, president of the Tanzanian Bishops Conference. Five bishops from Tanzania went to the hospital Sunday evening to relay the concern of their fellow bishops from their country for the pope's health.
"The Tanzanian church is praying for the pope," he said, adding that "today we sent a message of greeting in hope that he will get well as soon as possible."