United Press International
News. Analysis. Insight.
February 2, 2005
Pope health care sends Vatican scrambling
VATICAN CITY -- Pope John Paul II was "recovering peacefully" Wednesday, the Vatican's chief spokesman said, a day after respiratory
problems forced the 84-year-old pontiff to spend the night in the hospital and to cancel a scheduled public event for the first time in
nearly a year and a half.
When the news broke late Tuesday local time, several local news outlets reported that the aged pope's condition was potentially grave,
and some television news programs ran pre-produced segments explaining what would happen if the pope were to die.
But on Wednesday, Joaquim Navarro-Valls, the Vatican's chief spokesman, brushed aside those concerns. Speaking to reporters from
outside Gemelli Polyclinic just outside the Vatican's walls, Navarro-Valls said that John Paul never lost consciousness during the
treatment that including respiratory assistance and a battery of tests that included X-rays.
The spokesman said the pope had a slight fever on Wednesday morning, and he added that the pontiff had enough strength to
participate in a Mass held at his bedside.
"I think everyone should be calm because today there is no reason for alarm," Navarro-Valls said. "The pope has simply joined the
millions of Italian residents who caught the flu."
The weather in central Italy has been unusually cold in recent weeks, and Italian health officials have warned that risks of a flu outbreak
were on the rise.
John Paul was rushed to Gemelli at around 11 p.m. local time on Tuesday after a two-day long bout with the flu turned for the worse and
made it difficult for the pope to breathe. The pope is reported to visit Gemelli Hospital -- where he has a fully equipped set of 10th floor
rooms available to him at all times -- on a regular basis, but a late-night visit like the one on Tuesday is unusual.
The public appearance the Vatican cancelled was his regular Wednesday morning public audience at St. Peter's Basilica, though
Vatican sources say other private meetings through the end of the week have also been cancelled or pushed back. The last time the
pope was forced to cancel a scheduled public event was in September 2003, when he was suffering from an intestinal infection.
Observers who saw the pope at his previous public appearance, on Sunday, said his voice was hoarse, but that his spirits and health
Though the immediate risks to the pope have stabilized, the health scare triggered long-standing fears that the pontiff's fragile health
meant that his death could come at any time. Many of the world's largest news media that do not normally staff Rome bureaus have
opened satellite offices over the last two years in order to prepare to closely cover the death of the leader of the world's estimated 1
In Italy, television news programs broke regularly scheduled programming to report the news on Tuesday night, and Wednesday's daily
newspapers all carried the development on their front pages.
But once it became clear that the pope's life was not in jeopardy, interested observers went back to their normal lives.
"I have been praying that the pope's health recovers as quickly as possible, but I am relieved that he is not in serious danger," said
Sister Gloria Samana, who came to St. Peter's for the traditional Wednesday audience that was instead carried out by three cardinals.
Boston native Paul Curry, 38, said he came to Rome with the hope of catching a glimpse of the pope, but that he did not mind that he
missed the opportunity to do so.
"The important thing is that he recovers," Curry told United Press International. "I hope he will be around for many more years. I believe I
will have another chance to see him in the future."
The pope's health has eroded over the last decade, and he has been forced to scale back his travel and activity schedule dramatically in
recent years. But his health reached a low point in the summer of 2003, when he appeared to struggle even to stay awake and to
breathe during a series of public appearances. Since then, however, his energy level has improved dramatically.
The Holy See's press office would not speculate on when the pope might return to his normal schedule when contacted by UPI. But
officials did say that the Vatican's day-to-day activities were operating normally in the pope's absence.
"The only visible difference is that even more people are praying for (the pope's) health," the official said.
This article originally appeared in