VATICAN CITY, FEB. 23, 2005 ( Bad weather and his own state of convalescence prompted John Paul II to offer the first general "video-audience" of his pontificate.

Earlier, the Pope had been expected today to hold his weekly meeting with the faithful from the window of his study.

But the heavy rains and strong wind in Rome this morning made it necessary for the pilgrims to gather in Paul VI Hall.

The Pope, who is still recovering after his hospitalization this month for flu-related problems, addressed thousands of pilgrims via television from his private library.

In a hoarse but clear voice, the Holy Father offered a reflection on Lent, a season "which exhorts us to a particular commitment to prayer, fasting and penance, and to greater solidarity toward our neighbor, especially toward the poor and the needy."

"Let us open our hearts to the interior suggestions of grace. May egoism give way to love, so that we will be able to experience the joy of forgiveness and of profound reconciliation with God and with our brothers," exhorted the Pope, who was seated during the video-audience.

After his aides introduced the various groups present in Paul VI Hall, the Holy Father greeted them in six languages. In English, he said: "May your time in Rome be filled with joy and deepen your love of the universal Church."

The video-audience lasted less than a half-hour. General audiences usually last about 90 minutes.

On Tuesday, when presenting John Paul II's new book, "Memory and Identity," Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro Valls explained that "the Pope is improving and follows his doctors' advice, which is a bit of rest."