Pope struggles to speak at blessing


ITALY: Looking weak, weary and frail Pope John Paul II yesterday appeared at the window of the pontifical apartment in St Peter's Square to offer his blessing to more than 50,000 faithful gathered below him for the traditional Easter Sunday open-air Mass.

Although too unwell to attend the Mass, the Pope appeared at his window at around midday, remaining there for 12 minutes as he listened to his secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, read out the traditional "Urbi et Orbi" (To the City and the World) Easter message, which he has delivered for the 26 years of his pontificate.

When Cardinal Sodano had finished reading the message, the Pope, perhaps encouraged by the cries of "Viva Il Papa" from the crowd, tried to impart his pontifical blessing.

However, his words were indistinguishable and his voice sounded rough and hoarse.

Vatican aides quickly removed the microphone and the Pope then made the sign of the cross before withdrawing from the window, as many in the square applauded, and some wept.

For most of the time he was at the window, the 84-year-old Pope looked like he was in discomfort, occasionally putting his hand to his forehead as he has done on his other public appearances since he left hospital on March 13th.

Even if his attendance was brief and only from the apartment window, yesterday's Mass was the first Easter ceremony that the pontiff has managed to attend.

His obvious ill-health has forced him to miss out on all the other Easter ceremonies in the Vatican, including the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday, the Via Crucis on Good Friday and the Vigil Mass on Easter Saturday.

In his Urbi et Orbi message, the Pope called for peace in Africa and the Middle East and for peace in a world "drenched in the blood of so many innocents".

He also called on people to show "generous solidarity" to those who are "suffering and dying from poverty and hunger, decimated by fatal epidemics and devastated by immense natural disasters".

As a difficult Easter for John Paul II ends, there will be relief in many high Vatican places.

As of now, the Pope's closest advisers continue to struggle with the contradictory requirements of making him available and visible to the faithful while protecting his extremely delicate health.

Even the Vatican's official mouthpiece, the daily L'Osservatore Romano, on Saturday tacitly acknowledged the difficulties prompted by the uncharted territory of this pontificate phase.

It spoke of "the total human truth" with which John Paul II is living out his illness, while underlining "how much it costs the Pope to find himself set apart" from the Easter ceremonies.