Pope John Paul II, determined to show the faithful he is recovering from his latest health crisis, appeared in an open hospital window Sunday and vowed to continue his mission despite his age and mounting medical troubles.
He gave his usual brief blessing, but his words, in a gravely voice, were barely understandable.
In a message read out by an archbishop, the frail 84-year-old pope — looking rested and alert — gave thanks for the prayers and affection he has received since he was rushed to Rome's Gemelli Polyclinic last Tuesday with breathing trouble brought on by the flu.
It was the first public glimpse of John Paul since his hospitalization, which rekindled questions about his ability to carry on.
A few miles away on St. Peter's Square, where several thousand pilgrims and Romans gathered to see the pope on four giant video screens, cheers went up as his image appeared. When the pope is well, he gives his weekly blessing from a Vatican window overlooking the square.
"To all and each of you I assure you of my gratitude, which is translated into a constant invocation of the Lord according to your intentions as also for the needs of the church and the great issues of the world," the pope said from the hospital in remarks read in Italian by Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, a Vatican official from Argentina.
"Thus, also in this hospital, in the middle of other sick people to whom my affectionate thoughts go out, I can continue to serve the church and the entire humanity," he said.
"May the expression of my gratitude for the sincere and heartfelt affection reach all of you, dear brothers and sisters, and to all those in every part of the world who are close to me, something which during these days I felt in a particularly intense way."
For at least a decade, John Paul has had Parkinson's disease, a progressive neurological disorder which hampers proper muscle functioning and which could have played a role in the throat spasms that had made it difficult for him to breathe. He also suffers from crippling hip and knee ailments.
The pope expressed his gratitude to the medical experts attending him, saying he was "being helped with loving care by doctors, nurses and health workers whom I thank from my heart."
He also spoke out anew against abortion, urging people to "trust in the life that children who are not yet born silently cry out for."
"So many children, who are without families for various reasons, are asking for trust so that they can find a house that will accept them through adoption and temporary care," the pope said.
Hospital workers watched with teary eyes as the pope sat quietly while the message was read, then gave his blessing and thanked those who had prayed for his recovery. Others shouted "Viva il Papa!" ("Long Live the Pope!").
Domenico Neri, an Italian patient, came out in his pajamas for the papal blessing.
"I was very moved," Neri, who was hospitalized for high blood pressure shortly before the pope was admitted, said with tears in his eyes. "I feel so sorry for him. He's an old person with so much responsibility on his shoulders."
Pilgrims gathered Sunday outside the hospital, where a group of about 20 students from Spain stood vigil.
"We came today to pray with the pope, because he needs our prayers to make him feel better," said Blanca Bertran De Lis, a 17-year-old from the Spanish city of Toledo. "When young people are with him, he feels happier."
Police had tightened security around the hospital before the pope's brief appearance, posting snipers on the roof over the pope's 10th-floor suite as officers checked trash bins and patrolled with bomb-sniffing dogs.
The Vatican repeatedly has said the pope is improving, but has provided few concrete details of his day-to-day progress.
"It has been an intense moment for me to see that the Holy Father is already doing better. I am happy for him," Cardinal Camillo Ruini, president of the Italian Bishops Conference and papal vicar for Rome, told the ANSA news agency.
"Many non-Catholics pray for the pope, and this is proof of the great good that the pope has done and does to the whole of humanity," said Ruini, who was at St. Peter's among the faithful.
"It's always very moving," said Rory Conneely of Dublin, Ireland, watching a screen at the square. "It's so sad he's coming to the end of his life."