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Pope Delivers Silent Easter Blessing

Instead of greeting Rome and the world in some 60 languages, Pope John Paul II was forced to deliver his traditional "Urbi et Orbi" Easter blessing silently, by making the sign of the cross.

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The pope's struggle to speak touched crowds in the square below

The 84-year-old pontiff appeared at his apartment window overlooking Rome's St Peter's Square after one of his senior cardinals celebrated Easter Mass in his place. Aides brought a microphone to the pope's mouth, but despite Italian media reports that he'd been working with a speech therapist, he was unable to utter any words.

Papst Johannes Paul II. traditioneller Ostersegen Vatikan Osterfest

Pope John Paul II delivers an Easter Sunday blessing from his studio window overlooking St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Sunday, March 27, 2005.

The pope stayed at his window while his secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, read the "Urbi et Orbi" message to the crowds of pilgrims thronging the square below.

Many of the faithful who'd traveled to Rome for the Easter celebrations were hoping the pope would finally break a public silence that has lasted two weeks since his discharge from hospital after a throat operation to ease his breathing.


"We hope he will speak today," said Sherith Fernando, a Sri Lankan immigrant who travelled to St Peter's Square from the southern Italian city of Naples.


"We come here every Easter because we are Catholics and we want to see him," he said.

It is the first time since his first Easter as pope in 1979 that
John Paul II has had to delegate the main ceremonies of Holy Week to his cardinals, participating only through brief video-link appearances, or written messages like one read by German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to pilgrims at an Easter Vigil late Saturday.

Papast Johannes Paul II. auf einem vom Vatikan herausgegebenen Foto zeigt das schwerkranke Oberhaupt der Katholiken von hinten

Pope John Paul II holds a crucifix as he follows on video-link the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) torchlight procession in front of Rome's Colosseum from his chapel in his private apartments at the Vatican, Good Friday, March 25, 2005.



Damaging the Church?

In Saturday's edition of the Italian daily Corriere della Serra, dissident Catholic theologian Hans Kung wrote that he was unconvinced by John Paul II's battle with frail health, saying it was damaging the Catholic Church.

"The situation of the Church is serious. The pope is seriously ill and deserves every compassion. But the Church must live," Kung said.

The newspaper also noted what it called a "pact" between the Vatican's four most senior cardinals to maintain the status-quo in the hierarchy at the Holy See as long as the "uncertainty" surrounding John Paul II's condition continues.

Kardinal Joseph Ratzinger Galeriebild

German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

"Angelo Sodano, Joseph Ratzinger, Giovanni Battista Re and Camillo Ruini are the cardinals of the Curia (Vatican administration) which have most access to the pope in recent weeks, and it's not by chance they are also the ones presiding at the celebrations," said the paper.

Ruini celebrated the Palm Sunday mass at the beginning of the Easter rites, Battista Re the high-profile Holy Thursday mass, Ratzinger presided over Good Friday's Way of the Cross ceremony and Sodano, the Vatican secretary of state, hosted the Easter Sunday mass.

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