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Pope gets nutrition with feeding tube


Pope John Paul II gives his blessing Wednesday as he appears at the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter's Square at the Vatican.
 (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Pope John Paul II gives his blessing Wednesday as he appears at the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Tracy Wilkinson Los Angeles Times

ROME – Acknowledging that the pope’s recovery has been slow, the Vatican said Wednesday that John Paul II is now 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 was the Vatican’s first statement on the frail pope’s health in nearly three weeks, amid growing concern over his ability to continue his papal 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 the hospital March 13, the pope has made a handful of short appearances at his window but has not been able to utter even the briefest of blessings.

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

Instead, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said in a statement that 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 attached, but the implication was that a return to the hospital was not necessary.

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

The spokesman added that the pope spends several hours a day in an armchair, celebrates Mass in his private chapel and is conferring with his aides on church business.

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

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

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

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