The Pope is being fed by tube, says Vatican

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The Independent Online

The Pope is being fed by a tube through his nose, according to the Vatican. The disclosure came soon after John Paul II blessed thousands of pilgrims and tourists in St Peter's Square from his window yesterday.

The tube is necessary because he can no longer swallow. It is the latest indication of the steady physical decline of the pontiff, who is 85 in May and has suffered from Parkinson's disease for more than a decade.

But in the first medical bulletin on the Pope's condition to be issued for nearly three weeks, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the Vatican spokesman, described the latest intervention as part of the Pope's "slow and progressive convalescence".

John Paul II is now receiving both air and food through tubes, although no tubes were visible during his appearance at his window yesterday morning.

Wednesday is the day of his customary general audience, but since he was taken to hospital with flu on 1 February, his doctors have stopped him from appearing in public.

His four-minute appearance brought tears to the eyes of many waiting below in the piazza. As he raised his hand in blessing and made a firm, expansive sign of the cross, spontaneous cheers erupted.

A Belgian priest in the square below said: "He has given us an example of great courage. The Pope follows Christ's example and accepts his suffering, and that's an example for us all."