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Vatican's Plans for Holy Week Uncertain

Pope's Recovery Said to Be Lagging

By Sarah Delaney
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, March 23, 2005; Page A11

VATICAN CITY, March 22 -- Vatican celebrations for Easter week, the most important period on the Christian religious calendar, are proceeding with uncertainty with reports that Pope John Paul II is recovering from surgery more slowly than doctors expected.

On Tuesday, Vatican officials ruled out the pontiff holding his regular Wednesday audience, but left open the possibility that he would appear at his apartment window overlooking St. Peter's Square to greet the faithful.

Tourists stroll through St. Peter's Square in Vatican City, where the windows of Pope John Paul II's residence are illuminated at top right. (Tony Gentile -- Reuters)

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Vatican officials were unable to say whether the pope would take part in the Way of the Cross procession on Good Friday, even by video link. It is staged annually at the ancient Colosseum.

John Paul, who underwent a tracheostomy on Feb. 24 to relieve breathing difficulties, is not recovering as rapidly as expected, according to an informed source. A tube was inserted in his throat to address problems brought on by flu and Parkinson's disease.

His chief physician, Rodolfo Proietti, told the Italian news agency ANSA on Tuesday that there were no plans to put the pope, 84, back in the hospital. Another Italian news agency, Apcom, citing anonymous sources, said the pope was vomiting, suffering severe headaches and not responding well to medication.

The Vatican had been unusually informative about the pope's two hospital stays -- Feb. 1-10 and Feb. 24-March 13 -- giving positive, twice-weekly briefings about his convalescence. But in recent days, lack of official news has led to rumors of a sharp decline in the pope's condition, another sudden hospitalization and even death.

Pessimism was fed by the brief appearance -- about 90 seconds -- that John Paul made at his Vatican apartment window two days ago, on Palm Sunday. He looked thin, in pain and apparently frustrated at his inability to speak to an eager crowd below him.

Reporters seeking official word from the Vatican spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, were disappointed Tuesday when he did not arrive as planned for a news conference to present a documentary film about John Paul's papacy and travels around the world.

The Rev. Thomas Williams, a spokesman in Rome for the Legionaries of Christ, an order known as a favorite of the pontiff, said the Vatican should make the pope's condition clear to the public, and praised John Paul for his willingness to let his infirmities show.

"He's trying to be transparent. He is putting himself on display and saying: This is what I am, this is who I am," Williams said. He said John Paul "has an amazing will. We don't know how long God will let his will dominate his physical condition. He is pushing himself as hard as he can."

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