Pope's Condition Stabilizes in Hospital

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

Pope John Paul II had a restful night and his condition stabilized after he was rushed to a hospital with breathing trouble, but he will spend several more days at the clinic to recover from the flu, the Vatican said Wednesday.

Around the world, Roman Catholics paused to pray for the health of the 84-year-old pontiff.

Tests showed John Paul's heart and respiration were normal, and he got several hours' rest after being taken by ambulance to the hospital Tuesday night, papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said. The pontiff was running a slight fever from the flu and would spend "a few more days" at Rome's Gemelli Polyclinic for treatment of respiratory problems, he said.

"There is no cause for alarm," Navarro-Valls said.

The pope has Parkinson's disease, and Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, the Vatican's top health official, told Associated Press Television News that the slumping pontiff's inability to hold his back up straight has left his lungs and diaphragm in a crushed position.

Navarro-Valls insisted the pope had never lost consciousness, and he did not need a tracheotomy to insert a tube into his windpipe to help him breathe. He said John Paul participated from his hospital bed in a Mass celebrated by his secretary in the room.

Navarro-Valls characterized Tuesday night's hurried admission to a special papal suite on the 10th floor of the hospital as "mainly precautionary." Trying to appear reassuring, Navarro-Valls even joked at one point that John Paul was taken by ambulance to the hospital because "the subway doesn't go that far."

Navarro-Valls, who has a medical degree, told The Associated Press early Wednesday the pope had the flu and acute laryngeal tracheitis — inflammation of the windpipe — and suffered a "certain difficulty in breathing." He denied Italian news reports that John Paul had a CAT scan at the hospital and was taken to intensive care.

In a separate statement, the Vatican said the pope also experienced a "larynx spasm crisis."

The spasms likely were a complication from the respiratory illness the pope has had. Experts said it was possible his Parkinson's disease, which makes muscle control difficult, made it harder for him to breathe.

The first sign of the frail pope's illness came Sunday, when he kept clearing his throat during a 20-minute appearance at his studio window, thrown wide open on one of Rome's most bone-chilling days in years so he could release a pair of doves symbolizing peace into St. Peter's Square.

The flu has been sweeping through Italy since December, and the Rome region has been among those hit hardest. The Vatican declined to say whether the pontiff had a flu shot.

From John Paul's native Poland to Manila to Moscow, the faithful gathered to pray for his recovery.

"After we got the news, we added a special prayer during our morning Mass," said Bishop Szczepan Wesoly, who presided at the service at the Polish church near Piazza Venezia in the center of the city attended by Polish nuns in black habits.

In his hometown of Wadowice, Poland, well-wishers prayed at St. Mary's church, where the young Karol Wojtyla was baptized and attended Mass before his ordination.

"I wish the Holy Father good health," said Maria Pasnik, 46, a housewife in Wadowice. "I know the situation has improved and I pray that we can see or hear him again."

In the Philippines, one of the 129 countries John Paul has visited in his 26-year papacy, special prayers were offered.

"Let's all join the rest of the nation and the rest of Christendom in praying for the recovery of the Holy Father," said Ignacio Bunye, spokesman for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

At Moscow's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and at Notre Dame in Paris, believers lit candles for his speedy recovery.

In Mexico, dozens of people attended a special Mass in the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico City. The pope has visited Mexico five times in his papacy — the latest in 2002.

Outside the hospital where the pope was being treated, Polish well-wishers offered red and white roses, and a group of about 10 Australian students played the guitar and sang songs.

Martin P. Lombardo, of Princeton, N.J., president of a group called Jesus Cares Ministries, climbed a hill overlooking the hospital and prayed.

"I have been praying under the pope's windows for 16 years. Of course, now I'm praying for the pope's health," he said. "God is not done with the pope. God has more things for him to do."

Security arrangements at Gemelli Polyclinic were among the tightest in memory. The pope has stayed at the hospital — a Roman Catholic teaching institution about 2 1/2 miles from the Vatican — about a half-dozen times, starting in 1981 when he was critically injured by a gunshot wound to the abdomen in an assassination attempt in St. Peter's Square.

When he was elected pontiff in 1978, John Paul was a robust 58-year-old with an athlete's physique who was serving as archbishop of Krakow, where he played soccer, skied and kayaked as a youth. Less than three years later, in May 1981, he suffered his first health crisis when he was shot by a Turkish gunman in the square.

Other serious medical problems requiring hospitalization included a bowel tumor described by doctors as benign and removed in 1992, intestinal problems that led to the 1996 removal of his appendix, and a 1994 broken thigh bone, fractured in a fall in his bathroom.

A close member of the pope's staff, American Archbishop James Harvey, said John Paul had congestion and a slight fever earlier Tuesday, apparently symptoms of a flu that Vatican Radio described Monday as mild.

The Vatican announced Tuesday that papal engagements, including the weekly general audience Wednesday, were canceled. Until the pope was taken to the hospital late Tuesday, the Vatican had been issuing reassuring news about his condition.

Harvey said the decision to hospitalize the pope was made by close aides in his apartment complex, who include his longtime Polish secretary.

The hospital suite includes a chapel, a kitchen and sleeping quarters for his longtime personal aide, Polish Bishop Stanislaw Dziwisz.

John Paul has been a patient so often at Gemelli that the hospital has been dubbed by the Italian press "The Third Vatican" after the seat of the Holy See on St. Peter's Square and the pope's summer residence in the town of Castel Gandolfo.


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