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Aide to stand in for Pope

Vatican City, Feb. 26 (Reuters): Pope John Paul will remain shut in his hospital room tomorrow while for the first time in his papacy an aide will preside at his traditional Angelus prayer and bless crowds for him miles away in St Peter's Square.

A Vatican statement today said the 84-year-old Pope, left temporarily voiceless by throat surgery to ease a breathing crisis, had delegated everything to an aide.

The statement said the Pope, who already suffers from advanced Parkinson's disease, would 'join' the Angelus prayer from his hospital room. He was expected to watch on television.

By saying the Pope would remain in his room while the ceremony took place at the Vatican, some 4 km away, the statement indicated he would not appear at his window. The Angelus usually takes place wherever the Pope is on Sunday. Even on May 17, 1981, four days after he was nearly killed in an assassination attempt, the Pope managed to whisper a blessing via radio from his hospital bed. When he was in hospital earlier this month, the Pope was strong enough to sit at his window and deliver the blessing himself after an aide read his greetings.

It was not clear whether there would be a video link between the hospital room and St Peter's Square tomorrow at 1100 GMT so the crowds could at least see the leader of the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics.

Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, the Vatican's deputy secretary of state, would preside for the Pope and deliver a blessing from the steps of St Peter's Basilica on his behalf. 'The Holy Father will join in the reading of the Angelus prayer from his room in the Gemelli Hospital,' the Vatican said.

The Pope was rushed back to hospital for the second time this month on Thursday, making the world wonder if one of history's most significant papacies was drawing to a close.

Pierferdinando Casini, speaker of Italy's Lower House of parliament, visited the hospital today and said the atmosphere was one of 'hope and tranquillity'. Catholics around the world, however, have been fearing the worst. From the Pope's native Poland to the Philippines, people have held special prayer services for him.

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