VATICAN CITY — The Vatican said Thursday that doctors have advised Pope John Paul II to extend his hospital stay but that the pontiff will return to the Vatican by the start of Holy Week on March 20.
John Paul was speaking and will make another appearance at a hospital window this Sunday, but it was not known whether his voice would be strong enough to greet the faithful, said papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls.
He said the pope would extend his stay in the hospital "by a few more days."
"The pope would like to come back to the Vatican as soon as possible but accepts his doctors' advice," papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls told reporters two weeks after the 84-year-old pope was rushed back to a Rome clinic with his second breathing crisis in a month.
Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday on March 20 and culminates with Easter a week later. The Vatican has said the pope plans to give his traditional blessings on Easter Sunday but that the blessing was his only commitment so far.
John Paul has been recovering at Gemelli Polyclinic hospital from Feb. 24 surgery to insert a tube into his windpipe to help him breathe. He has been undergoing breathing and speech therapy, the Vatican says. Navarro-Valls said the Holy See's next medical update would come on Monday, suggesting the pope would not be released before then.
Roman Catholic pilgrims around the world had hoped the Vatican would set a discharge date on Thursday. The faithful have been gathering by the hundreds beneath his 10th-floor hospital suite.
Their vigilance was rewarded on Wednesday with a brief surprise appearance by John Paul, who waved and made the sign of the cross from behind a window kept shut to keep out Rome's unseasonably chilly weather.
"Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to see the pope," said Eva Polyaka, a 15-year-old student from Poland. "Today, my dream came true."
John Paul appeared shortly before noon on a day when he traditionally holds his weekly public audience at the Vatican, an event that draws thousands of pilgrims. His third public appearance since being re-hospitalized was a surprise -- his spokesman had said he had no plans to do it.
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