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Pope blesses jubilant Easter crowd


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Pope John Paul II appears after Easter Mass.

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VATICAN CITY (CNN) -- An ailing Pope John Paul II has blessed tens of thousands of jubilant pilgrims and tourists marking Easter Sunday in St. Peter's Square by making the sign of the cross with his hand, but he was unable to speak.

The pope, who suffers from Parkinson's disease, seemed to be trying to speak into a microphone from his studio window. After making a few sounds, he eventually just made signs of the cross and the microphone was removed.

The 84-year-old pope, who had a tracheotomy on February 24, coughed briefly when he first appeared, but remained at the window for 12 minutes and looked stronger than he had in recent appearances.

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who presided over Easter Mass in St. Peter's Square, read the traditional Urbi et Orbi (city and world) blessing as the pontiff followed the text from his studio.

It was the first time in his 26-year papacy that the pontiff had not celebrated the Mass himself.

Many in the crowd cried, others applauded when the pope appeared. Easter Sunday is the most joyous day in the Christian calendar as it commemorates the day Christians believe Christ rose from the dead.

He skipped Holy Thursday Mass and missed attending the ceremony Friday commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus.

The pope did appear briefly at his Vatican window on Wednesday.

The Wednesday window appearances have become a substitute -- even during the two occasions he was in hospital during the last two months -- for his regular Wednesday general audiences, which have been canceled since late January.

On Saturday, German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger took the pope's place leading this year's Easter Vigil Mass at St. Peter's Basilica, which the pontiff observed from his Vatican apartment.

The cardinal read a message from the pontiff, telling Roman Catholics he was watching the service on television.

A cardinal who stood in for the pope in a Holy Week ceremony at the Vatican earlier said the ailing pontiff was "serenely abandoning" himself to God's will.

Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re said the pontiff linked his own suffering to that of Jesus Christ. (Full story)

The pontiff's failing health represents uncharted territory for the Vatican, according to CNN Vatican analyst John Allen.

"They're kind of groping their way forward to understand how they can make the pope as available as possible to his followers while at the same time protecting his health," Allen said.

'In God's hands'

The Vatican has not issued a single medical bulletin on the pope's health since he was released from a hospital this month. A senior cardinal said the pope remained "lucid" despite his frail condition.

Throughout his various illnesses and brushes with death, even following the assassination attempt against him in 1981, the pope always said his life was in God's hands.

John Paul underwent a tracheotomy to relieve severe breathing problems on February 24. He has spent a total of 28 days in two stints at Rome's Gemelli hospital these past two months.

Since he left hospital on March 13, the pope, who also suffers severe arthritis as well as from Parkinson's disease, has made four very brief appearances in public.

The pope still has a tube, known as a cannula, in his throat to help him breathe, and medical experts have said he will probably have to keep it there for the rest of his life.

Reporter Kareen Wynter contributed to this report


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