Pope John Paul II has been rushed back to Rome's Gemelli Hospital, after a relapse of the flu that caused him to be hospitalized for 10 days earlier this month. Vatican officials say the Pontiff is suffering from a recurrence of the same breathing problems that sent him to the hospital on February first.
A terse statement by Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the Vatican spokesman, says the pope was taken to the hospital Thursday morning for what it says are "necessary specialized treatment and further tests."
The statement says the pontiff came down with the flu again on Wednesday, but was not hospitalized until Thursday.
Italian news media say the pope was seen sitting up in the ambulance that took him to the hospital, and that he was fully conscious and fully alert.
Vatican officials say there is no cause for alarm, because a man of the pope's age - he is 84 - is always at risk of catching the flu. The weather in Rome in recent days has been cold, wet and windy. And, since he returned from the hospital two weeks ago, the pontiff has twice appeared at the window of his Vatican apartment overlooking Saint Peter's Square to address crowds of pilgrims and well-wishers.
Vatican watchers say they discovered that something was wrong when John Paul failed to show up Thursday for a Vatican meeting to discuss candidates for sainthood. It was only after they raised questions that the Vatican issued the statement that the pope has been re-hospitalized.
Reporters and camera crews are staking out positions in front of the Gemelli Hospital, as they did earlier this month when the pope was there.
And well-wishers concerned about John Paul's health have also begun to gather in Saint Peter's Square.
Earlier this month, VOA spoke with some of the faithful who congregated on the square to pray for the pope's recovery.
"I heard he is very sick. And we know probably that he is not going to be here much longer," said a man.
"There are a lot of people praying, so, hopefully, he will get better, and he does have the best care," a woman told VOA.
The once vigorous pontiff's health has declined in recent years. He suffers from Parkinson's disease and arthritis, and is confined much of the time to a wheelchair. But just last Sunday, he delivered his traditional message to pilgrims in Saint Peter's Square in a strong, though gravely, voice.
No announcement on the pope's condition is expected before Friday.