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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 February, 2005, 19:50 GMT
'Cured' Pope returns to Vatican
The Pope leaves hospital in the popemobile, 10 February 2005
The Pope is expected to use the period of Lent to recover
Pope John Paul II has returned to the Vatican after spending nine days in Rome's Gemelli hospital.

Aides strung plastic sheets between the hospital exit and the "popemobile" vehicle to keep the Pope from the cold.

He waved to crowds lining the streets of Rome as his motorcade swept by on its way to the papal apartments.

Earlier the Vatican announced that the 84-year-old pontiff had recovered after being admitted on 1 February with throat spasms brought on by flu.

Looked well

The BBC's correspondent Matt Prodger in Rome says the Pope had clearly opted to make a public display of strength, rather than simply making a discreet return to the Vatican.

With the illuminated popemobile glowing as it passed through the Rome night, the Pope looked rather well, our correspondent says.

The pontiff marked Ash Wednesday - the first day of Lent - in his hospital room, receiving ashes he had blessed.

It was the first time in his 26-year papacy that he had missed Ash Wednesday ceremonies in St Peter's Basilica.

"The laryngo-tracheitis which required the urgent hospitalisation of the Holy Father, has been cured," Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said on Thursday.

"The improvement in his overall condition is progressing well. In the last two days, all the diagnostic checks, including a Cat scan, have allowed us to exclude other illnesses."

He said the Pope would send a letter of thanks to all those who had helped him recover.

Frail but alert

His improvement came as the Roman Catholic Church was entering the period of Lent - traditionally a time of spiritual reflection.

Normally the Pope has few public engagements during Lent, and this year he is expected to use the six weeks until Easter to recover his strength.

The Vatican says he has recovered his voice and is considering whether to make his customary appearance at his office window on Sunday.

I think the Pope won't step down because his pontiff is not a job but a mission of his life. Strength and fitness isn't necessary to be a Pope
Gosia, Poland

"When he gets back to the Vatican he will look over and decide with his doctors what his appointments will be," the Pope's spokesman said.

The Vatican has accepted this week, for the first time, that the Pope might choose to step down, saying the matter should be left "to his conscience".

Bu the BBC's David Willey in Rome says that for the time being the Vatican appears determined to quash speculation about a possible successor.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See the Pope return to the Vatican from hospital




SEE ALSO:
Ailing Pope misses Lent service
09 Feb 05 |  Europe
Pope's well-wishers excel
04 Feb 05 |  Europe
Ailing Pope to stay in hospital
02 Feb 05 |  Europe
Pope's troubled health history
02 Feb 05 |  Europe
A life in pictures
15 Oct 03 |  In Depth


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