Pope John Paul surprised the Roman Catholic faithful by making an unexpected appearance at the window of his hospital room where he is recovering from throat surgery to overcome breathing difficulties. But his Sunday message was read by an aide in Saint Peter's Square.
The faithful were gathered below the pope's hospital room and in Saint Peter's Square Sunday to hear the pontiff's message read by one of his aides. They had been told the pope would not show himself, because he is still recovering from flu symptoms that affected his breathing.
But much to everyone's surprise, after his message was read out, the pope came to his window and waved at the pilgrims. He made the sign of the cross twice, and then gestured to his throat, as if to explain why he had been unable to read the message in person.
The crowd was thrilled to see the pope was well enough to be wheeled to the window. Young Catholics chanted "John Paul II, We love you." It was the pope's first appearance since he was taken to the hospital Thursday with a breathing crisis.
The pope underwent a tracheotomy that evening, and has a tube fitted to his throat to help him breathe easier.
In Saint Peter's Square earlier, thousands of people had gathered to hear the pope's message, even though most of the faithful were informed that he would not be appearing. Among them was Dennis Mulharen from the U.S. state of Iowa.
"It's nice to be able, if we can, to be able to hear the pope read the message," he said. "It means a lot to me, as an American, and as a Catholic, to experience that here, when we're in Rome. But, obviously, our prayers are with the pope, for his well-being, and we have a lot of love for the pope, and we wish him all the best."
It was bright and sunny in Saint Peter's Square, when Archbishop Leonardo Sandri addressed the crowd on the pope's behalf.
He says, "The pope is following us from the Gemelli hospital, and he offers his prayers and his suffering for us, and for the whole world, and from his square, united to him, with our great affection, we pray with him, and for him."
He then read the pope's message. In it, the pope asked the faithful to continue to remember him in their prayers. He thanked them for all their affection and said he feels they are all spiritually close to him.
The sight of the 84-year-old pope, for those who were able to see him, was reassuring. But many are still concerned that his health has been failing him for some time.
"I do not know if he will pull through this time or not, but we all know that we have a life limit, and his is getting closer. So, we just have to take it as it comes," said Harriet Tims, who is visiting Rome from South Carolina in the United States.
Many questions remain as to when the pope will be able to return to the Vatican, and whether he will be able to speak when he does. The Vatican is expected to issue another medical bulletin on Monday.