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Pope misses post-Easter prayer

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Pope John Paul II appears after Easter Mass.

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Pope John Paul II

VATICAN CITY (CNN) -- In another sign of his fragile health, Pope John Paul II has skipped the post-Easter Angelus prayer for the first time in his 26-year papacy.

His traditional appearance on the Monday after Easter marks the end of the Holy Week celebrations.

The pope was not expected to appear at the noon prayer, but thousands of pilgrims gathered nonetheless in St. Peter's Square.

An ailing pontiff appeared Sunday at his Vatican window, following along as a cardinal read his blessing for the crowd gathered in St. Peter's Square for Easter mass. (Full story)

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

The 84-year-old pope, who had a tracheotomy on February 24 to relieve severe breathing problems, then attempted to read the traditional Urbi et Orbi (city and world) blessing, but his voice was not strong enough to be audible.

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 window appearances have become a substitute -- even during the two hospitalizations during the last two months -- for his regular Wednesday general audiences, which have been canceled since late January.

The pontiff returned to the Vatican March 13 after the tracheotomy. He was also in hospital from February 1 to February 10.

The pope suffers from a number of chronic illnesses, including crippling hip and knee ailments and Parkinson's disease, a progressive neurological disorder that can make breathing difficult.

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

German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger took the pope's place on Saturday, 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.

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.

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