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Pope Being Fed Through Tube

Times Staff Writer

Acknowledging that the pope’s recovery has been slow, the Vatican said Wednesday that John Paul II was receiving nutrition through a feeding tube in his nose to give him strength.

Public audiences with the pope will be canceled until further notice, the Vatican said.

It is the Vatican’s first public statement on the pope’s health in nearly three weeks, and concern is growing about his ability to continue his duties. The announcement came shortly after John Paul appeared at his apartment window above St. Peter’s Square and, for the second time in four days, failed in an attempt to speak to the crowd below.

Since his release from a hospital March 13, the pope has made a few short appearances at his window but has not been able to utter even the briefest of blessings. For the first time in his 26 years as pope, he was absent from celebrations of Easter, the holiest period in the Christian calendar.

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The pope has looked gaunt since leaving the hospital where he was confined twice in the last two months for a total of 28 days and where on Feb. 24 he underwent an emergency tracheostomy to help him breathe.

The 84-year-old pontiff also suffers from Parkinson’s disease, which makes swallowing difficult. Italian media reported this week that he was having trouble eating solid food and his doctors were considering readmitting him to the hospital for an operation to insert a feeding tube in his stomach.

Instead, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said in a statement, the pope was receiving nutrition through a nasogastric tube as a way to “improve his caloric intake and promote an efficient recovery of his strength.”

It was not clear when the tube was inserted, but the implication was that a return to the hospital was not necessary for now. The feeding tube was not visible during his appearance Wednesday.

“The Holy Father continues his slow and progressive convalescence,” Navarro-Valls said.

He said the pope spends several hours a day in an armchair, celebrates Mass in his private chapel and confers with his aides on church business.

The pope still has a tube in his windpipe, which further curtails his movements.

Navarro-Valls’ comments, his first on the pope’s health since March 10, were an attempt to allay mounting doubts over whether John Paul will have a visible role in the leadership of the world’s 1 billion Roman Catholics.

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“The Silence of the Pope; the Anxiety of the Faithful,” read a front-page headline Wednesday in the newspaper Il Messaggero.

“Reducing the vital perimeter of Wojtyla to his private apartment also effectively restricts his exercise of power,” Vatican expert Luigi Accattoli said in Italy’s leading daily, Corriere della Sera, using the pope’s surname.

“If the man emerges from this convalescence, and in the Vatican they’re confident he will because they’ve seen him win so many battles, then what we will have is a pope who is lucid but an invalid

The pope has said it is “morally obligatory” to provide “basic healthcare,” including water and food, to the critically ill, including those in a vegetative state.

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