It is the first time the ailing Pontiff has failed to voice the traditional Easter Sunday blessing in his 26-year pontificate.
The Pope, made his appearance at his apartment window overlooking a rain-dampened St Peter’s Square.
He strained to speak into a microphone but was unable to pronounce the blessing, eventually being forced to concede to his illness.
Men and women across the Vatican square wept as they watched in hushed silence as the pope gestured his blessing.
“I am worried. This means he doesn’t have much time left,” said Maria Carmela of Palermo, Sicily, wiping away tears.
The 84-year-old Pope, who suffers from Parkinson disease, is recovering from a throat operation and breathes through a tracheotomy tube in his neck.
Many believed he would use the Easter Sunday blessing to speak his first words in public for two weeks, but they heard only the pope’s laboured breathing.
Vatican watchers said the Pope, who remained seated at his window for 15 minutes as his secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, read out his Easter speech, seemed overcome by emotion, as one point making a gesture as if to wipe tears from his eyes.
In the Easter message he was too ill to read himself, John Paul II called for peace in the Middle East and Africa and “generous solidarity” for the multitudes dying from poverty and hunger.
The Pope called for peace for a world “drenched in the blood of so many innocent victims, peace for the countries of the Middle East and Africa, where so much blood continues to be shed, peace for all of humanity threatened by fratricidal wars.”
In a gesture to victims of the Asian tsunamis and to those of a current outbreak of an Ebola-like virus in Angola, the Pope called for mankind to have “the strength to show generous solidarity towards the multitudes who are even today suffering and dying from poverty and hunger, decimated by fatal epidemics or devastated by immense natural disasters.”