Pope Shows Great Agility With Cast-Encased Right Arm

A beaming Pope Benedict XVI raised his cast-encased right arm to bless thousands of faithful Sunday during his first public appearance since surgery to set a wrist fractured in a fall.

The 82-year-old pope showed great agility two days after the accident. He held out his left hand for the faithful to kiss and to greet well-wishers, but raised his immobilized right arm to bless the crowd in this small Piemontese town's main square. He made the sign of the cross with ease.

"As you can see because of my accident, my mobility is a bit limited," Benedict told some 2,000 gathered in the main square at the start of his blessing. "But the presence of my heart is full."

He also thanked the doctors and medical staff at the Aosta hospital, where his wrist was reset on Friday, for their "diligence, competence and friendship," and also expressed thanks for all the prayers offered for his recovery.

Stepping out into the sunlight from beneath the canopy shading the outdoor altar, Benedict acknowledged the throngs in the square while another 5,000 or so followed on large screens set up in two other piazzas.

In his traditional Sunday blessing, the pope addressed the issue of growing unemployment in the region, which is dependent on both the automotive and telecommunications industries that have suffered in the global economic downturn.

"Dear friends, don't be discouraged," the pope urged. "Providence always helps those who work for the good and who occupy themselves with justice, helps those who don't think only of themselves, but of those who are worse off."

Andrea Accattino, vice mayor of the town of nearly 3,000, said the pope's visit was an important morale-booster for the community, which now has a jobless rate above 10 percent.

"Our hearts skipped a beat on Friday when they said he had fallen, but we didn't stop the planning machine," said Accattino. "The pope was smiling even if he was suffering a little from his wrist. He had a smile for everyone."

The pope underwent a 20-minute surgery on Friday after falling in a mountain chalet to reset the wrist he fractured in a fall, the first major medical issue of his 4-year papacy. Doctors said the pope will have to wear the cast for a month, and that he should fully recover.

The pope's spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the pontiff was eager to keep his commitments despite the accident, which doctors said was not related to any medical condition.

"The Holy Father's condition is good," Lombardi told AP Television News on Sunday. "He needs to learn to live with an immobile wrist, meaning that some activities, in particular writing which is very important for him, will be limited. He's a very patient person and surely he will experience this small test with serenity."

He said well-wishes for the pope had poured in from around the globe in calls, letters and e-mails.

Benedict was returning to his mountain retreat in Les Combes, in the neighboring region of Val d'Aosta near the French border.

Benedict has spent two summers in a secluded chalet in the village of Les Combes since becoming pope. During his vacation, the pope said he expected to rest and work on the second volume of his book on Jesus of Nazareth — although the prospects for writing have been curtailed by his injury. The right-handed pope prefers to write by hand.