Ailing pope makes 30-minute statement

/ Source: The Associated Press

Pope John Paul II, appearing somewhat gaunt and wheezing as he spoke, made his longest public appearance Wednesday since his hospitalization, but it was broadcast by video hookup after the Vatican canceled his planned appearance at his apartment window after rain and winds lashed Rome.

The change was in line with the caution the Vatican has been showing since the 84-year-old pontiff was rushed to the hospital Feb. 1 with breathing difficulties following a bout with the flu.

Flanked by two aides as he sat in his studio, he read a statement in six languages.

“I greet with affection all of you gathered for the usual Wednesday meeting,” he said, expressing the hope that the Lenten season leading up to Easter in late March will “lead us to a profound and sincere conversion.”

The audience lasted 30 minutes — the longest time the pope has appeared in public since returning to the Vatican on Feb. 10. Fully alert, he waved and gave his blessing at the end.

Several thousand pilgrims were brought into a Vatican auditorium, where the pope’s weekly public audience is held. The crowd, viewing a giant screen, applauded when he spoke.

The Vatican had originally planned for the frail pope to address pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square from his apartment window but decided instead on a video hookup due to the poor weather.

Doctors work with VaticanWhen John Paul was discharged from the hospital, the Vatican made clear he would decide on his schedule in consultation with his doctors. He has Parkinson’s disease and crippling knee and hip ailments.

He has a number of appointments on his agenda, but the Vatican was holding off immediate confirmation of the pope’s participation, deciding a day at a time.

Among planned events were audiences with Israeli and Palestinian tourism ministers Friday and the president of Azerbaijan on Saturday.

On Thursday, he was scheduled to participate in a Vatican meeting to approve candidates for sainthood — one of the hallmarks of his papacy. John Paul has proclaimed more saints in his 26 years as pope than all his predecessors in the past 500 years combined.

Book launchedTop Vatican officials took part in the launch of the pope’s new book, which went on sale in Italy on Wednesday. Passages regarding the 1981 attempt on his life apparently fanned public interest.

“Memory and Identity,” John Paul’s fifth book, was featured in windows of bookstores near the Vatican after a major promotion in newspapers and television broadcasts.

“We sold about 20 copies in less than hour this morning,” said salesman Igor Bodnar in the Ancora bookstore at the edge of St. Peter’s Square. “That’s pretty good, a real sign of interest.”

The Rizzoli publishing house hopes that the work that includes John Paul’s first public description of the moments after he was shot can become an international best seller.

Rizzoli, which holds the worldwide rights, said it would come out in 14 editions in 11 languages over the next few months.

The book, based on conversations with Polish friends, covers a wide range of issues, particularly the damage done by Nazism and communism to Europe last century.