I can't go on, the Pope tells followers

A weak and feverish Pope John Paul II was forced to interrupt his traditional Christmas greetings to the world yesterday, alarming the 30,000-strong crowd in St Peter's Square as he was seen sighing and bowing his head in the window of his private Vatican apartments.

"I'm sorry, but I can't go on. Merry Christmas and God bless," the 75- year-old Pontiff said hurriedly as he retired inside to be sick. Twenty minutes later he reappeared, to applause from the crowd, but was unable to continue with the greeting he normally reads out in more than 50 languages.

A Vatican spokesman insisted that His Holiness was suffering from no more than a nasty bout of flu, but the episode highlighted the frailty of a man who has undergone major surgery twice in the last three years and lost much of the driving energy that has characterised his 17 years as Pope.

It was the first time since his election in 1978 that John Paul had cut short his heavy Christmas programme of services and addresses. He had appeared to be in fine form until Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, when he gradually turned pale in the heat of St Peter's, filled with around 12,000 worshippers. When he returned to the sacristy, his vestments were bathed in sweat.

By yesterday morning, he was running a temperature and had to bow out of Christmas Mass, which was taken instead by the vicar-general of Vatican City, Cardinal Virgilio Noe. Traditionally, the Pope gives his Urbi et Orbi address, to the city of Rome and the world, from the balcony of St Peter's. Under the circumstances, however, he decided to deliver it from his private apartments.

He had just given his Christmas greeting in Italian and French when he was forced to stop. "Even the Pope has his weaknesses, but I'm trying to resist," he said.

This time last year, the Vatican was abuzz with speculation about the health of the Pope and possible candidates for the succession. Following a painful recovery from hip-replacement surgery, he looked pale and weak in public and walked only with the help of a cane.

In 1995 he has remained subdued, but much stronger, allowing Vatican insiders to predict with some confidence that he will fulfil his dream of seeing the Catholic Church through the millennium.

Reaction in Rome yesterday was noticeably free of panic. "There's been a bug going round and several of my friends have had temperatures of 38 or 40 degrees," said Paolo Vannini, a physicist with connections in the Church. "Why should the Vatican walls offer any special protection?"

The Pope himself was expected to spend the rest of the year at his country residence, Castel Gandolfo, where he has recuperated from illnesses in the past. As for his Christ- mas message and greeting, the Vatican announced they would be available for the first time on the Internet - address code http://www.vatican.va.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links