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Hospitalized pope is recovering well, Vatican says

VATICAN CITY -- Pope John Paul II is recovering without complications and has started therapy to improve his breathing and speaking, the Vatican said yesterday, a day after the pope surprised the faithful with a brief appearance in a hospital window.

The Holy See said the 84-year-old pope has been eating regularly and spending some time sitting in an armchair. But it gave no hint of when he would leave Rome's Gemelli Polyclinic, an indication that doctors see the need for an extended stay.

''The Holy Father's postoperative phase is taking place without complications. His general condition and biological parameters continue to be good," the Vatican communique said. ''The Holy Father is eating regularly, spends some hours in an armchair and has begun exercises to rehabilitate breathing and phonation."

The therapy is aimed at improving the pope's breathing and ability to speak after surgery last week to insert a tube in his throat to ease his second respiratory crisis in less than a month.

The Vatican handed out the brief medical update to reporters, and papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls was not present to offer any elaboration. It said it would not issue another update until Thursday.

Asked by reporters how the pope was doing, Dr. Cesare Catananti, Gemelli's medical director, smiled but would not comment. Italian Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini arrived at the hospital yesterday afternoon, but it was unclear whether he would meet with John Paul.

Marco Verzaschi, a regional health commissioner, visited the hospital and met with the pope's medical team, including papal physician Dr. Rodolfo Proietti.

''I'm much more optimistic now, after having spoken to the doctors, than when I came," Verzaschi said. ''With the pope's great stamina and strength, he is overcoming even this very difficult trial."

The pope spent 10 days in the hospital earlier in February with breathing problems that stemmed from the flu. His relapse led some to question whether he had been released too soon.

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