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Pope Greets Appeals for Release of Hostages in Iraq

Pope John Paul has greeted the faithful gathered in Saint Peter's Square and appealed for all hostages in Iraq to be released. The appearance was his first at the Vatican since his hospitalization for breathing problems linked to the flu.

Thousands of worshipers packed Saint Peter's Square and broke out in applause when the Pope appeared at the window of his studio for the first time since his return from the hospital. Many were relieved to see him back for his traditional Sunday appointment with the pilgrims.

Some in the square held a big banner with the words "welcome back." The pope looked well and waved at the crowd with a trembling hand.

The pope spoke with his own voice in some parts and gave his blessing to the crowd.

He thanked the faithful for their closeness, affection and above all prayer during his hospitalization at the Gemelli hospital.

The pope returned to the Vatican on Thursday after spending nine days at the hospital where he had been taken after suffering breathing problems linked to the flu.

In his message, the pope also made an appeal for all hostages in Iraq to be released.

The pope's assistant read the message to the faithful. As I continue to pray for peace in the Middle East, he said, I also appeal for the release of the Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena held in Iraq, and for all the other hostages.

The pope is now expected to begin a weeklong spiritual retreat for Lent. All his private audiences will be canceled and his is not expected to make another public appearance until next Sunday.