- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 5, 2005

ROME — Pope John Paul II was alert and spoke in a clear voice yesterday as he read a note signed by dozens of bishops who gathered in the chapel of the Rome hospital treating the pontiff for flu and breathing troubles, the bishop who delivered the letter said yesterday.

Italian Bishop Vincenzo Paglia, who brought the note to John Paul’s suite at Rome’s Gemelli Polyclinic hospital, said the pope expressed joy and gratitude for the prayers of support.

“You can understand him easily,” Bishop Paglia told reporters, describing how the pope turned the pages of the letter in his hands. The ANSA news agency quoted him as saying the pope spoke “with a clear timbre.”

The pope was to give his traditional blessing at midday today from the hospital where he is being treated, but an aide was to read out the weekly Angelus prayer, the Vatican announced yesterday. It said it planned to televise today’s service, but was still working out details.

A blessing consists of only a few words in Latin, generally, “May Almighty God bless you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” and would be far less taxing on the pope than reading out the entire prayer.

The Vatican also said American Cardinal James Stafford would preside in the name of the pope at an Ash Wednesday prayer service in St. Peter’s Basilica. The service had been scheduled before the pope’s illness in place of his regular general audience.

John Paul’s fourth night in the hospital passed quietly, Vatican radio reported yesterday.

About 100 leaders from different branches of Christianity gathered yesterday in the hospital chapel to pray for his recovery. The clerics, who included Roman Catholic bishops as well as Orthodox and Lutheran ministers, were in Rome for the 37th anniversary of a Catholic aid organization.

“The pope is happy for the prayer. The pope is getting better — he is happy. We hope that he can return soon to take up his normal activities again,” Bishop Paglia said.

On Friday, the Vatican said the pope’s flu and breathing problems were improving and he was eating regular food again, but it did not specify when the pontiff could leave the hospital or resume his regular schedule.

The latest official medical bulletin from the Holy See said the pope’s condition had stabilized and that his breathing had improved. Otherwise, it gave few details on the flu and respiratory troubles that led to the pontiff’s urgent hospitalization on Tuesday night.

John Paul canceled a Friday meeting with Josep Borrell, the president of the European Parliament. Mr. Borrell met instead with the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, as will U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice when she visits Tuesday, officials said.

But today’s traditional prayer appearance was something the pope didn’t “want to miss,” papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said.

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