updated 3/16/2005 5:49:25 AM ET 2005-03-16T10:49:25

Pope John Paul II made a surprise showing Wednesday at a window of his apartment overlooking St. Peter's Square, his first public appearance since being released from the hospital after throat surgery to ease a breathing crisis.

The 84-year-old pontiff appeared briefly to pilgrims who had gathered on the square on a day when the pope typically greets the faithful in a weekly public audience. He made the sign of the cross to several thousand pilgrims on the square on a mild March day.

The Vatican had said Tuesday that John Paul would skip the audience and had no plans to appear. He lingered no longer than a minute at the window.

The pope was released from Rome's Gemelli Polyclinic hospital on Sunday after a 2 1/2-week stay following surgery on Feb. 24 to insert a breathing tube in his windpipe. Vatican officials have said it will be up to John Paul's doctors to decide whether and when to remove the tube. Slideshow: A historic papacy

John Paul, who also has Parkinson's disease and crippling hip and knee ailments, is being closely monitored by his physicians, who are advising him on how much he can exert himself.

The Vatican has given no indication of the pope's schedule for the coming days except to confirm he will give his traditional blessing on Easter Sunday, March 27. Holy Week celebrations begin this weekend with Palm Sunday.

Officials said the acute phase of the breathing crisis that sent the pope to the hospital for the second time in a month was over, but he would continue his recovery at the Vatican. A medical bulletin initially planned for Monday was canceled after his discharge from the hospital.

The Italian news agency Apcom reported this week that the pope's apartment overlooking St. Peter's Square has been sterilized to reduce the risk of infection.

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