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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 March, 2005, 19:48 GMT
Pope to sit out Easter services
Pope John Paul II speaks from Gemelli hospital on 13 March
The Pope has appeared briefly in public twice since leaving hospital
Pope John Paul II is expected to sit out Vatican ceremonies for the Easter weekend for the first time in his 26-year papacy.

Cardinals will stand in for the 84-year-old pontiff, who is likely to appear by video link.

He is still expected to give his traditional Easter Sunday blessing.

The Pope left hospital on Sunday, more than two weeks after undergoing throat surgery, but there are reports that his health has deteriorated further.

He has made two brief public appearances since his discharge.

'Spiritually present'

The Pope watched Holy Thursday services on television from his apartment.

We want to thank him for the witness he continues to give us even through his example of a serene abandonment to God
Cardinal Giovanni Batista Re
Senior Vatican official
"With mind and heart I am close to you," he said in a message read out by a cardinal at an early evening service at St Peter's Basilica.

"Spiritually present, I pray with you, while with affection I bless all of you."

In another service earlier in the day, Cardinal Giovanni Batista Re, a senior Vatican official, paid tribute to the pontiff.

"We want to thank him for the witness he continues to give us even through his example of a serene abandonment to God, which he links to the mystery of the Cross," he said.

The Pope is expected to follow Good Friday's Way of the Cross procession at the Colosseum by video link.

He gave up carrying the cross several years ago but until last year presided over the evening service which follows the procession.

He will deliver his Urbi et Orbi blessing after his secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, conducts the main mass on Easter Sunday.

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