Pope Might Leave Hospital Next Week

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Pope John Paul II (search) might leave the hospital where he is recovering from throat surgery early next week, a priest from the pontiff's hometown said Saturday, giving details of a conversation with the pontiff's closest aide.

The Rev. Richard Nitschke, visiting with a group of pilgrims from John Paul's birthplace of Wadowice, Poland, said he met Saturday with the pope's personal secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz (search), who assured him that "everything is going well."

The priest said that Dziwisz responded to a question about when the pope would be out by saying "'Monday or Tuesday, eventually.'" Nitschke did not see the pope.

The Vatican (search) did not confirm the possible discharge date, the first discussed publicly since the 84-year-old pontiff was rushed to the hospital and underwent throat surgery on Feb. 24 to ease his breathing.

On Thursday, papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said the pope would extend his stay by a few more days to complete his recovery. He added the pontiff would be back in time for the start of the Holy Week, which begins on Palm Sunday, March 20. The next health update is scheduled Monday.

"Everything is normal," Navarro-Valls said Saturday, indicating the pope's recovery was progressing without complications.

The comments came a day after the Vatican gave the first glimpse of the frail pontiff speaking publicly since the surgery to insert a tube into his windpipe.

A two-minute video released Friday "was the first little chat by the pope to be seen publicly, but we had already said in previous days that the pope was speaking," Navarro-Valls told reporters at the Gemelli Polyclinic hospital. "With his aides he has been speaking for days."

The footage was taken Friday during a meeting with Tanzanian prelates in the pope's hospital suite. The pope's photographer also was present and several physicians were nearby.

John Paul said a few words in a husky voice, including "va bene," Italian for "OK." As they left, he said "God bless you" in English.

The pope, in purple vestments, was shown seated during a Mass celebrated by Dziwisz in the small chapel in the suite. The pope's voice was barely audible as he recited prayers and he appeared drawn.

In another sign that John Paul is stepping up his activities before leaving the hospital, the Vatican released the text of two messages sent by the pope in the past days.

"We live in a society that seems to have lost the sense of God and sin," one of the messages said, urging Catholics to remain vigilant against sin.

Until Friday, the pope had appeared three times at his hospital window without speaking, raising concerns about his ability to communicate to the faithful. He has Parkinson's disease (news - web sites), which makes speaking difficult because of muscle problems.

A new appearance from his hospital window was planned Sunday, but it was not clear if the pope would speak or bless the faithful with his hands, as he has done previously.

On Saturday, the group of about 40 pilgrims from Wadowice brought the pontiff presents, including an album with pictures of the town, well-wishing notes from residents and a palm branch.

"Holy Father, your native home is by your side," said a banner held by the pilgrims, who sang and prayed beneath the pope's window.

"We came from his birthplace, representing many people from this town who want to strengthen the pope's health with prayers," Wadowice Mayor Eva Filipiak said.