The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Tears & tenderness over Pope's agony

Vatican City, March 27 (Reuters): An ailing Pope John Paul appeared at his window to bless the faithful on Easter Sunday but in a dramatic episode that brought tears to the eyes of many, he failed in his attempt to speak.

When aides brought a microphone to the Pope's mouth he made a few sounds and breathed heavily but was unable to pronounce any words.

The Pope sat at his window for about 15 minutes listening to the end of an Easter Sunday service before he tried to speak. He looked uncomfortable and put both hands to his face.

After failing to speak, the man once known as 'The Great Communicator' gently patted the arms of his chair in an apparent sign of disappointment and frustration.

'This is provoking infinite sadness and tenderness in me,' said Maria Celeste Caruso, one of the tens of thousands of people in an overcast St Peter's Square.

The highly emotional scene, broadcast live on television, came after his secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, presided at the solemn Easter Sunday service for the Pope.

During the mass, the Pope's window was left open, as a sign of his spiritual link with the faithful below. His coat of arms was left hanging outside and the curtains wafted in the breeze.

Then the 84-year-old Pope, sitting and wearing his traditional white cassock, was rolled up to his window and waited while Sodano read the Pontiff's Urbi et Orbi message, Latin for 'to the city and to the world'.

When Sodano finished, a priest announced the Pope would give the crowd a special blessing. But all he could do was move his hand in the sign of the cross. It was the first Easter Sunday service not presided over by the Pope in the 26 years since he became Roman Catholic leader.

Pilgrims had tears in their eyes as they watched the Pope, many with hands grasped tightly in prayer.

'Knowing how much he suffers and how hard it is for him to speak, for me it was so beautiful. It moved me very much,' said Matthew, a pilgrim from Boston. 'He's such a strong force and wonderful example for our Church.'

The last time the Pope spoke in public was two weeks ago on the day he left the hospital where he underwent a tracheotomy operation on February 24 to relieve severe breathing problems.

Today morning was the last of a string of services the Pope had skipped during the most important season in the Church's liturgical calendar.

'This has been the saddest Holy Week that I can remember,' said Sister Reina, a nun from Argentina.

Father Salvatore Murra, a priest from Argentina, was hopeful for a miracle. 'The Pope is in the hands of the Lord and that is the best place to be. I hope God performs a great miracle for the Pope. Can't you see all these prayers rising up from right here to God asking for that',' he said, raising his arms to the sky.

Walter Veltroni, the mayor of Rome and a former communist, said he was shaken.

'What the Pope lived through today was something that transmitted extraordinary intensity and emotion,' he said. 'The message in his discomfort and pain is a message of hope.'

In the address read by Sodano, the Pope said Easter gave nourishment to those who 'hunger for truth, freedom, justice and peace'.

He decried the continuing violence around the world, saying it had left many places 'drenched in the blood of so many innocent victims'.

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