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Catholic World News News Feature

Pope gets feeding tube March 30, 2005

Doctors have installed a "nasal-gastric" tube to provide Pope John Paul II with nourishment, the Vatican has disclosed.

Ending a long silence about the Pontiff's health-- which had given rise to intense speculation among Italian journalists-- the Vatican press office revealed on March 30 that the Holy Father had been equipped with a feeding tube "to improve the caloric intake." In making the announcement that a feeding tube was already in place, the Vatican defused reports that the Pope would need to be hospitalized once again.

The Vatican bulletin on the Pope's health was issued shortly after an impromptu public appearance by John Paul II at midday. Although his regular Wednesday audiences have been suspended indefinitely, the Holy Father came to the window of his apartment to greet the crowd that had gathered in St. Peter's Square, hoping for such an appearance. The Pope gave his blessing, and tried to speak, but was only able to produce a guttural rasp.

Pope John Paul was reportedly having difficulty in swallowing, making it difficult for him to obtain proper nourishment. Informed sources at the Vatican say that the Pope is able to eat, but the feeding tube became necessary because he was not able to take in enough food to sustain his recovery after surgery.

Because of the symptoms of Parkinson's disease, which have stiffened the muscles of his throat and chest, the Pope has had difficulty in breathing, swallowing, and clearing his throat. The insertion of the feeding tube comes after the February operation in which doctors inserted a tube through his throat to ease his breathing. The nasal-gastic tube, a flexible hose running through his nose into his stomach, enables medical personnel to ensure that the Holy Father has proper nutrition.

Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the director of the Vatican press office, said that the Pontiff "continues his slow and progressive convalesence" He reported that the Pope spends "many hours each day" in a chair, and has been meeting with top Vatican officials.

The Vatican statement made a point of saying that the Pope's care was being provided by Vatican personnel, under the direction of the Pontiff's personal physician, Dr. Renato Buzzonetti. That statement seemed to be aimed at quelling rumors that the Pope would be hospitalized once again.

The Vatican bulletin on March 30 was the first formal statement about the Pope's health since March 10. Navarro-Valls himself had not made a public appearance since March 13, when he announced the Pope's return to the Vatican after 18 days in Gemelli Hospital. The silence from the Vatican had prompted Italian journalists to seek out unofficial sources, and during the past few days many papers had reported that the Pope would soon be hospitalized for the insertion of a feeding tube.

The Pope's failure to come to his window on the Monday after Easter had fueled fears about his health. On Wednesday, during his short public appearance, he appeared clearly to be in pain, but remained at the window for about 4 minutes, acknowledging cheers from about 4,000 people in St. Peter's Square.

After the crowd had recited the Lord's Prayer, the Pope gave his blessing. Then an aide, Msgr. Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki, came forward to confer with him, apparently asking whether the Pope wanted to address the crowd. When the Pontiff nodded, a microphone was brought forward, and John Paul II struggled but was unable to speak. Similarly, on Easter Sunday, the Holy Father had made a concerted effort to speak, to deliver at least a part of his Urbi et Orbi message aloud, but was unable to do so.

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