- The Washington Times - Monday, March 28, 2005

ROME — Pope John Paul II silently blessed pilgrims from his window over St. Peter’s Square yesterday, prompting many to weep when they saw that he was unable to make his traditional Easter address.

The pontiff appeared less haggard than during his last public appearance four days earlier and made the sign of the Cross. But when he tried to speak, the 84-year-old pontiff was unable to say a word, leading aides to quickly remove a microphone from the ailing leader of the world’s 1 billion Roman Catholics.

The pope evidently had hoped to make his traditional Easter blessing in scores of languages but is far from recovered from the throat surgery that he underwent to relieve breathing crises brought on by influenza and the effects of Parkinson’s disease.

For the first time since his election to St. Peter’s throne in 1978, the Polish pontiff was unable to participate directly in Easter services such as the Way of the Cross procession held each Good Friday at the Colosseum.

John Paul watched the service from his private chapel, where a video link captured him for images beamed onto screens erected at the Colosseum, but the Vatican camera only filmed him obliquely from the side.

President Bush, meanwhile, used the holiday to honor American soldiers and their families by attending services at the 4th Infantry Division Memorial Chapel at Fort Hood, Texas.

“I want to wish all the fellow citizens and their families a happy Easter,” said Mr. Bush, who was accompanied at the service by parents, his wife and his twin daughters.

“We prayed for peace; we prayed for our soldiers and their families. It’s an honor to be here at Fort Hood to celebrate Easter with those who wear the nation’s uniform.”

It was the third consecutive year that Mr. Bush has marked Easter at Fort Hood, a 50-mile helicopter ride from his ranch in Crawford, Texas. Thousands of soldiers from the base have served in Iraq.

Many think this will be the last Easter for the pope, who has been undergoing speech therapy to restore his voice but still has a small tube inserted in his throat to help him breathe.

“The pope is definitely going to survive the Easter holidays,” a veteran Vatican watcher said. “There have been too many cardinals going on holiday away from Rome for his death to be considered imminent. The question is how long he can continue after the Easter break.”

The pope’s decline has revived persistent reports of a fierce power struggle in the Vatican between rival factions jockeying for position as the conclave to choose John Paul’s successor draws closer.

Vatican sources strongly denied a report in Italy’s leading newspaper, Corriere della Sera, that the church is being run without significant reference to the pope by “a pact” of four senior prelates, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, Cardinal Giovanni Re and Cardinal Camillo Ruini.

The newspaper said the four have “shared out power” to “preserve the status quo” and “prevent a takeover” in the Holy See.

Il Messaggero quoted one of the four cardinals dismissing the report as “spring fantasy.” But such reports are widely thought to be true amid uncertainty over who is running the church in the long twilight of John Paul’s 26-year pontificate.

Other Vatican sources have speculated repeatedly that Cardinal Sodano — the Vatican secretary of state or prime minister reviled by Church liberals for his close connections in the past to the Chilean Pinochet regime — is about to be replaced by Cardinal Re, 71, the “foreign minister” of the Holy See, who also is widely seen as a future pope.

Cardinal Sodano, 77, evidently fell from grace with John Paul’s powerful Polish personal secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, after the Italian prelate suggested publicly that the pope might consider resigning, the sources said.

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