CASTEL GONDOLFO, Italy, SEPT. 24, 2003 ( John Paul II, suffering from an intestinal ailment, expressed his regret for not being able to attend today's general audience.

Pilgrims who were gathered in Paul VI Hall at the Vatican seemed relieved when they heard the Pope's televised message at the end of the meeting.

"I am sorry not to be able to be with you in this traditional weekly meeting. I carry you all in my heart and I bless you with affection," he said in a firm voice, although he looked tired.

The Holy Father followed the meeting on television, from the chapel of the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo, some 30 kilometers (18 miles) south of Rome. Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano filled in for the Pope at the audience.

On Tuesday night, newspapers published the news of the Pontiff's indisposition, after it was announced by the Italian agency ANSA. This morning Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro-Valls confirmed the news. "Due to intestinal trouble, which began yesterday afternoon, the Holy Father will not preside at today's general audience, which will take place in Paul VI Hall," the director of the Vatican press office announced.

Cardinal Sodano greeted the pilgrims, before reading the address prepared by the Pope, dedicated to comment on Psalm 8.

"Together we will pray for him, trusting that he may quickly recover," Cardinal Sodano announced. "His Holiness would like you to know that he is following us via television and, at the end of this gathering, he will speak to us."

John Paul II is scheduled to return to the Vatican on Friday, at summer's end, as he does every year. On Saturday he is scheduled to preside at a Mass in St. Peter's Basilica for the repose of the souls of Popes Paul VI and John Paul I, Navarro-Valls confirmed.