`Popemobile' returns pontiff to the Vatican after hospital health scare

His condition continues to improve, aide says

February 11, 2005|By Tracy Wilkinson | Tracy Wilkinson,LOS ANGELES TIMES

VATICAN CITY - Nine days after critical breathing trouble landed him in the hospital, Pope John Paul II emerged from the medical complex yesterday, boarded his glass-encased "popemobile" and rode through the streets of Rome to his home in the Vatican.

From his vehicle, Pope John Paul waved haltingly at crowds outside the hospital, including patients in their pajamas, and at those awaiting him in St. Peter's Square.

The surprise decision to use the specially fitted car for the three-mile journey, instead of the ambulance that rushed him to the hospital late Feb. 1, was seen as an effort to reassure an anxious public after the 84-year-old pontiff's latest health scare. His illness renewed debate over whether Pope John Paul, the third-longest serving pontiff, should step down.

The swelling in his throat and larynx that "motivated the urgent hospitalization of the Holy Father has been cured," papal spokesman Dr. Joaquin Navarro-Valls said ahead of the pope's release from the hospital.

Navarro-Valls, reading from a statement and answering few questions, said the pontiff's condition continued to improve. He said diagnostic tests, including a CAT scan, had ruled out "other pathologies." But he would not say whether the pope's voice was strong enough for him to read prayers aloud Sunday.

After Sunday, the pope is expected to enter a previously planned weeklong meditation tied to the Christian penitential season of Lent. That will give him a chance to rest up privately before Easter.

The pope was rushed to the Gemelli Polyclinic on Rome's northern outskirts after a bad bout of the flu inflamed his windpipe and brought on the breathing difficulties. He also suffers from Parkinson's disease, a degenerative neurological affliction, and from a crippling form of arthritis. Those conditions exacerbated the respiratory problems.

Yesterday's ride offered the first glimpse the public has had of the pope since he appeared at his hospital window Sunday to deliver a short blessing.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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