Condition improved, pope celebrates Mass

Vatican says pontiff should be released from hospital in a few days as flu subsides

February 03, 2005|By Todd Richissin | Todd Richissin,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

ROME - Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass from his hospital bed as his fragile health improved from Tuesday's scare, when he was rushed to the hospital with breathing problems associated with the flu, Vatican and health officials said yesterday.

The pope is likely to be released from the hospital in a few days, said the officials, who nearly pleaded with reporters to accept the Vatican's conclusion that the 84-year-old pontiff's medical condition was not a cause for significant concern.

Pope John Paul's heart and breathing were "within what is normal, we think," the papal spokesman, Dr. Joaquin Navarro-Valls, told reporters.

The pope still had a slight fever from the flu that has been making the rounds of Rome, Navarro-Valls said, but he had a good night's rest.

"There is no cause for alarm," said Navarro-Valls, who has a medical degree.

Given Pope John Paul's health and age, though, there was considerable concern in much of the world. From grand St. Peter's Square in central Rome to the humble churches of rural Mexico, Catholics paused to pray for their spiritual leader's health, and a scattering of well-wishers milled around Rome's Gemelli Polyclinic, where the pope was being treated in a 10th-floor suite.

Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, the Vatican's top health official, was not as optimistic as some, saying that Parkinson's disease, which causes the pope to slump, has left his lungs and diaphragm in a crushed position.

The slumped posture could affect his breathing and, by making it harder for him to cough normally, also make him more susceptible to pneumonia - a significant threat for the elderly or infirm.

Others feel better

Other patients and the hospital staff seemed more relaxed after the Vatican said the pontiff could be released later in the week.

Gemelli Polyclinic's public areas are like a shopping mall in some ways, with a sprawling first floor: a sweets shop here, a sandwich shop there, over there a shop for beauty treatments and dominating the area is a busy bar.

"It makes me feel better that he's doing better," said Sister Maria Paulo, who at 71 was dressed in a blue robe and slippers, wandering the halls of the hospital between chemotherapy treatments.

"The pope has been devoted to the good of the world, so the world wants to feel good for him doing better. He has such a strength - even as he looks so weak."

Mob of journalists

Girolamo Sircha, Italy's health minister, yelled to reporters that "his condition is better today than yesterday," then fled the hospital as a mob of about 300 journalists chased him into the parking lot.

Navarro-Valls, the papal spokesman, also tried to assuage alarm, saying again at an afternoon briefing with reporters that the pontiff had never lost consciousness, that the dash to the hospital was only precautionary.

The pope, he joked, was rushed to the hospital by ambulance because "the subway doesn't go that far."

He told wire services that the pope had the flu and acute larynegeal tracheitis - inflammation of the windpipe - and suffered a "certain difficulty in breathing."

Italian journalists had reported that Pope John Paul had a CAT scan and was taken to intensive care, but Navarro-Valls denied this.

No one lives forever

The good wishes from world leaders and the prayers in public squares were all the surface atop a hushed undercurrent of grudging realization even among the pope's most devout followers: Pope John Paul II is not going to live forever.

"This is a strong pope but we know ... " said Valter Guardabassi, a ham-radio operator from Rome, letting his sentence trail off as if finishing it would be a sign of disrespect.

"Well, I don't believe or support everything that the church says but I support this pope. He has been a gift to the world."

Pope John Paul has had other serious medical problems requiring hospitalization, including a bowel tumor described by doctors as benign and removed in 1992, intestinal problems that led to the 1996 removal of his appendix, and a 1994 broken thigh bone, fractured in a fall in his bathroom.

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