VATICAN CITY, FEB. 7, 2005 ( Though his state of health is improving, John Paul II will stay in the hospital at least until Thursday "for reasons of prudence," says the Holy See.

After visiting the Pope this morning, Joaquín Navarro Valls, director of the Vatican press office, told reporters that the Holy Father said jokingly that he is reading the newspapers "to keep up with the development of his illness."

Around midday, the Vatican spokesman read a statement in which he explained that "the general state of the Holy Father continues to improve. He no longer has fever, he eats regularly, and he spent several hours in an armchair."

"For obvious reasons of prudence, the Pope has been advised to prolong his stay in the Gemelli Polyclinic for a few days," the spokesman added. He said the next statement on the Pope's health would be issued Thursday.

In response to a journalist's question, Navarro Valls specified that John Paul II would stay in the hospital at least until Thursday.

The spokesman's prepared statement said that "the Pope concelebrates Mass every day in his room," with his secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, and invites the doctors, nurses and people looking after him to participate.

This morning, John Paul II asked that Navarro Valls be given some poignant messages the Pope has been receiving from people around the world and, in particular, from sick persons or those with relatives now hospitalized in Gemelli.

One message is from a woman whose child is suffering from cancer, and whose room is just a few meters from the Holy Father's.

"Many persons share their sufferings with the Pope, who keeps them all in his prayers," explained Navarro Valls. He noted that this was precisely one of the messages the Pope wished to communicate Sunday, in his greetings to pilgrims read on his behalf by an aide.

On Sunday, John Paul II appeared for the first time in public since he was hospitalized on the night of Feb. 1, suffering from complications caused by the flu.

The Holy Father appeared for about 10 at the window of his hospital room for the Angelus and in a faint voice imparted his apostolic blessing in Latin. At the end, almost inaudibly, he murmured: "Thank you."

John Paul II has delegated Cardinal James Stafford, major penitentiary of the Church, to preside in his place at the Ash Wednesday rite in St. Peter's Basilica. The Pope might receive the imposition of ashes in his hospital room.