- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 13, 2005

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope John Paul II was released from the hospital and returned to his apartment overlooking St. Peter’s Square yesterday after reassuring the world’s Roman Catholic faithful with his own raspy voice that he is on the mend.

A gray Mercedes minivan carried the frail, 84-year-old pontiff back to the Vatican, 2 weeks after he was rushed by ambulance to Rome’s Gemelli Polyclinic hospital and had surgery to insert a breathing tube in his windpipe.

Cries of “Viva il Papa” (“Long live the pope”) went up outside the hospital as John Paul crossed himself and the van pulled away. He waved and blessed the thousands of cheering Romans and tourists who lined the route, and his motorcade crossed the spectacularly floodlighted square just as night fell, passed beneath the Arch of the Bells and disappeared inside the Vatican.

John Paul left Gemelli just a few hours after his first live public address since the Feb. 24 operation, managing a few scripted words in a hoarse voice from a window to a crowd of cheering Catholics who had gathered beneath his 10th-floor hospital suite.

“Dear brothers and sisters, thank you for your visit. To everyone, have a good Sunday and a good week,” he said, reading from a sheet of paper and singling out faithful from his hometown of Wadowice, Poland, for a special greeting.

Minutes later, the Vatican announced the pope’s discharge from the hospital. But its brief statement made clear that the pope was not cured — merely well enough to continue his convalescence back at the Holy See. The statement said John Paul was leaving Gemelli “in agreement with the attending physicians.”

Although John Paul was released in plenty of time for Holy Week, which begins March 20 with Palm Sunday and culminates a week later with Easter, the Vatican says his only commitment so far is giving his traditional blessings on Easter Sunday.

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