It lasted less than two minutes but it was more than enough to warm the hearts of Catholics around the world. Outside Rome’s Gemelli Hospital, well-wishers couldn’t quite believe it. The Pope was, after all, keeping his Sunday appointment with the faithful. Acknowledging the throat surgery he has undergone, the pontiff pointed to his throat. He still can’t speak after having a tracheotomy.
But the mere sight of the leader of the Roman Catholic Church sparked scenes of jubilation. Some clapped, others sang. Many simply smiled. “The world needs his Holiness,” said one man outside the hospital. “We have to pray for him. We consider him a saint,” said a woman. Just over six kilometres away, pilgrims in St Peter’s Square were unaware of Pope John Paul’s surprise appearance.
For the first time, his weekly blessing was being delivered by someone else. Archbishop Leonardo Sandri did the honours, reading a message in which the ailing 84-year-old thanked the world for its concern. Later today, a fresh medical bulletin is due to be released by the Vatican.