By JOHN THAVIS, CNS | Published March 3, 2005
Five days after a tracheotomy to relieve breathing problems, Pope John Paul II was able to say Mass in his hospital room, meet with aides and continue initial sessions of speech therapy, the Vatican said.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who brought the pope some papers to work on, told reporters March 1 that the pontiff had spoken to him—in two languages, German and Italian.
“The pope was able and alert, and he’ll work on the things I brought him,” said the cardinal, who heads the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation.
Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls told reporters the same day that the pope’s recovery was “completely normal” and that he had spent another peaceful night at Rome’s Agostino Gemelli Polyclinic.
Navarro-Valls called the 84-year-old pope a “good patient” and said he was carrying on with breathing and speech rehabilitation exercises.
A day earlier, the spokesman had said the pope had no complications in his recovery phase and was in good condition.
The pope’s ability to speak was one of the bigger question marks hanging over his recovery. Medical experts said that if the tracheotomy tube is left in, speech would be possible but more difficult for the pope and would not be as audible.
The Vatican has not said how long the pope is expected to remain in the hospital. Some church officials have said there should be no rush to return him to the Vatican.
“Please, let’s not make him leave the hospital too quickly. In this recovery phase, one needs to be more prudent and less hasty,” Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, head of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, told the Rome newspaper La Repubblica.
The Vatican said the pope’s weekly general audience scheduled for March 2 would be canceled. The next regularly scheduled medical bulletin was expected March 3.
The pope made a surprise appearance at his hospital window to bless well-wishers Feb. 27 after missing the Sunday Angelus blessing for the first time in his pontificate. After the white-robed pontiff was wheeled into view, he waved, blessed the crowd several times, then moved his hand to his throat, where a bandage covered the surgical wound. The one-minute appearance heartened a small crowd gathered on the hospital grounds that included youths from Spain who held a banner reading, “Your Holiness, never give up!”
The images of the pope at his window were broadcast on Italian TV but were not relayed to St. Peter’s Square, where several thousand people had assembled to pray for the 84-year-old pontiff.
Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, an assistant secretary of state, told pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square that the pope was “offering up his suffering for the entire world.”
“Let us pray with him and for him,” he said. Giant TV screens scattered throughout the square showed a more youthful, vibrant image of the pope.
The pope’s message, which Archbishop Sandri read, asked the faithful to keep him in their prayers and thanked everyone for their expressions of concern and affection.
He said Lent teaches “the value of suffering which, in one way or another, touches us all.” By understanding Christ and his message, people can come to realize that every form of pain carries with it the promise of salvation, he said.
“I would like this message of comfort and hope to reach all people, especially those experiencing moments of difficulty, and those suffering in body and spirit,” the papal message said.
The pope was taken by ambulance to Gemelli for the second time in a month Feb. 24 after a recurrence of breathing problems caused by throat spasms, initially brought on by the flu. He had the 30-minute tracheotomy later that evening.
In medical bulletins that followed, the Vatican said the pope was eating well and breathing more comfortably. The pope had not had a fever or respiratory infection and had not needed to be put on a respirator, the Vatican said.
Doctors told the pope not to speak for several days to favor the healing of his larynx, the source of the breathing problems. The tracheotomy, which the pope personally agreed to, aimed to increase the amount of air moving in the respiratory system, to favor healing the inflamed larynx, the Vatican said.
Papal spokesman Navarro-Valls said that shortly after surgery the pope took a sheet of paper and wrote, in a light vein: “What have they done to me?” and then wrote below it: “I am still ‘Totus tuus’ (totally yours).” That was a reference to his motto, which dedicates his life and ministry to Mary.
In the days following surgery, visitors arrived at the pope’s suite of rooms at the hospital. Many were met by Vatican protocol officials, while others saw and spoke to the pope.
Among the visitors was Cardinal Bernard F. Law, former archbishop of Boston and now archpriest at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. He left the hospital without speaking to reporters.
Colombian Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, head of the Pontifical Council for the Family, also stopped by to see the pope and said afterward that he found “a great serenity” in the pontiff.
On March 1, some 50 Polish pilgrims brought the pope some honey from Poland to help cure his throat. They left it with the pope’s secretary, along with drawings from young patients in a Polish hospital.
Medical experts consider a tracheotomy a fairly routine operation, but given the pope’s age and his frail condition the recovery period was expected to be longer than usual.
Contributing to this story were Cindy Wooden, Carol Glatz and Sofia Celeste.