'Cured' Pope Leaves Rome Hospital

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Pope John Paul II left the hospital in his white popemobile Thursday, declared "cured" of breathing spasms that left him bedridden for 10 days and rekindled debate about his ability to continue leading the Roman Catholic Church.

Under heavy security, the 84-year-old pope was bundled into the vehicle inside a covered entrance to Rome's Gemelli Polyclinic to shield him from the winter chill. Police sealed off St. Peter's Square to tourists, and hundreds of cheering Romans lined the route to the Vatican.

Beneath a crisp early evening sky, spectators huddled behind barricades set up along a main street running by the Holy See for a glimpse of John Paul in his white robes as he waved to the crowd along the 4-kilometer (2.5-mile) route to the Vatican.

His return — a hastily arranged procession with a touch of pageantry designed to show the world he has recovered — was broadcast live on Italian television.

The bulletproof popemobile also is equipped with a hydraulic lift, which makes it easier for the pontiff, who walks with difficulty, to get into than a limousine.

Papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls announced at midday that the frail pope had recovered completely from the breathing crisis that led to his urgent hospitalization on Feb. 1 and that his general condition continued to improve.

Navarro-Valls said a battery of tests including a CT scan — a three-dimensional X-ray — had ruled out any new illnesses.

The pope, who also suffers from Parkinson's disease and crippling hip and knee ailments, was rushed by ambulance to Gemelli two days after coming down with the flu. A Vatican official said the situation was "serious, very serious" when he first arrived at the hospital.