Pope John Paul II has started speaking less than a week after undergoing throat surgery.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger told journalists this afternoon the Pope had spoken to him in German and Italian.

Cardinal Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, described the Pope as being very alert during their short meeting this morning.

Earlier today, the Vatican's official spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, said the Pope's condition was improving steadily following a fifth night at the Gemelli Hospital after undergoing a throat operation to alleviate acute breathing difficulties. 

The next official medical bulletin on the Pope's condition is due to be delivered on Thursday.