.- Yesterday, the Holy Father made his first public appearance since being released from Rome’s Gemelli hospital. He appeared at the window of his private study to pray the Angelus with thousands of people gathered below in St Peter's Square.
Prior to the prayer, which the Pope had expressed wishes last week to preside at, Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, substitute of the Secretariat of State, read a text prepared by the Holy Father.
"I would like to thank you all," John Paul II wrote, "including those who are following us on radio and television, for your closeness, affection and, above all, your prayers during the days I spent in the Gemelli Polyclinic. I always feel the need for your help before the Lord, in order to carry out the mission that Jesus has entrusted to me."
After recalling the beginning of Lent with the imposition of ashes last Wednesday, the Pope affirmed that this liturgical time "reminds us of a fundamental truth: we do not enter eternal life without carrying our cross together with Christ. We do not achieve happiness and peace without courageously facing the interior struggle.”
“This struggle”, he noted, “is won with the arms of penitence: prayer, fasting and works of mercy. And all must be done secretly, without hypocrisy, in a spirit of sincere love towards God and our brothers and sisters."
Before closing, the Pope asked the faithful to pray for him and his collaborators in the Roman Curia during their week of spiritual exercises which begins this evening.
"In silence and meditation”, he said, “I will pray to the Lord for all the needs of the Church and of the world."
Archbishop Sandri concluded the time of the Angelus saying in the Pope's name: "As I continue to pray for peace in the Middle East, I make a heartfelt appeal for the liberation of the Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena, and of all those kidnapped in Iraq."
Before departing, the Holy Father pronounced his blessing and added, "I wish everyone a happy Sunday. Thank you."