Touching his throat fitted with a breathing tube, Pope John Paul II on Sunday made a surprise first public appearance after surgery, appearing at his hospital window just moments after a Vatican official stood on the steps of St. Peter's Basilica to read the pontiff's appeal for prayers.
The 84-year-old pope did not speak during his one-minute greeting from Rome's Gemelli Polyclinic hospital, but sent an implicit and powerful message about his determination to maintain continuity in the church.
The appearance — in which the seated pope waved and appeared alert — raised hopes he was making progress following a tracheotomy Thursday to ease a breathing crisis. The Vatican had previously announced John Paul would skip his weekly blessing — a 26-year tradition he did not miss even after he was shot in 1981 and recovered from an operation in 1992.
The Vatican's undersecretary of state, Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, read a message from the pope while standing between the towering statues of St. Peter and St. Paul outside the basilica.
"Dear brothers and sisters, once again I address you from the Agostino Gemelli Polyclinic," Sandri told about 5,000 people in the square, relaying the pope's message. White drapes were drawn over the window where the pope often gives his weekly address.
"I thank you with affection and feel you all spiritually near," Sandri said on behalf of the pontiff. "I think of you gathered in St. Peter's Square, alone and in groups that have come, and to all those from every part of the world who are interested in me. I ask you to continue to accompany me, above all with your prayers."
Minutes later — at the hospital 2 1/2 miles away — curtains were pulled back from the pope's 10th-floor suite. He was wheeled to the closed window as the Vatican's No. 2 official, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, stood alongside. A Vatican photographer in the room snapped pictures, according to <i>The AP</i>.
The pope, wearing his usual white robe, waved with his right hand and made signs of the cross to about 200 people on the hospital grounds. He then touched his throat, but neither the tube nor other signs of the operation were visible.