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Pope's Condition `Very Serious' After Heart Failure (Update3)

April 1 (Bloomberg) -- Pope John Paul II, spiritual leader of the world's 1 billion Catholics, is in ``very serious'' condition and has received the blessing for the dying after suffering heart failure and a high fever, weeks after surgery to relieve breathing problems.

The pope was ``conscious'' and ``extremely serene,'' said Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls at a press conference in Rome. The 84-year-old pope yesterday received the blessing for those approaching death, Navarro-Valls said. His condition is stable, though ``very serious,'' after he suffered a ``urinary tract infection, septic shock and a cardiocirculatory collapse,'' Navarro-Valls said.

John Paul II will remain in his apartment overlooking St. Peter's Square and won't return to the Gemelli hospital, where last month he underwent a tracheotomy to relieve breathing problems. The pope, who has been confined to a wheelchair as Parkinson's disease sapped his strength, has been in the Gemelli 10 times since a 1981 assassination attempt. For some, prayers to save the pope's life changed today to pleas to ease his pain.

``I ask the Lord to help him in his suffering,'' said Anna Mustini, 70, a native of Rome who was baptized at St. Peter's. She came to the Vatican this morning with her husband, Alvaro Tancredi, 71, who used an electric wheelchair to move around St. Peter's Square.

Bishop of Rome

``He's our bishop, the bishop of Rome,'' said Tancredi, referring to the local title that popes hold in addition to that of global head of the church. ``He loved Rome.''

Navarro-Valls said the pope was conscious minutes before he left him to begin the press briefing at 12:30 p.m. A doctor by training, Navarro-Valls has worked with the pope since John Paul's selection 26 years ago and said he has never seen the pontiff in such a condition.

The pope requested that certain prayers traditionally conducted on Fridays be read in his room, and he received visits by high-ranking Vatican officials, including Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican's secretary of state, and Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the vicar of Rome who's charged with making the official recognition of the pope's death.

``He was lucid; he recognized me immediately,'' Sodano told state-owned RAI television. ``He was praying with some nuns while the doctors were there assisting him.''

Cardinals Summoned

The world's cardinals, who will select John Paul II's successor, have been summoned to Rome, a sign that preparations are under way for a conclave, the secretive election procedure that must begin within three weeks of the pope's death.

Another sign of the gravity of the pope's condition was a decision by the Vatican to keep open its press office, which normally closes at 3 p.m.

Catholics around the world gathered to pray for the pope. Churches in his native Poland will stay open for 48 hours. In France, the Archbishop of Paris Andre Vingt-Trois called on all Catholics to pray for the pontiff and will hold a special mass at the Notre Dame cathedral later today, Agence France-Presse reported. In Israel, which the pontiff visited in 2000, Christians held vigils in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, AFP reported.

The basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano, over which the pope presides as Bishop of Rome, will hold a special mass tonight led by Ruini. Leading Italian politicians such as Romano Prodi, former president of the European Commission and leader of Italy's biggest coalition of opposition parties, and deputy Prime Minister Marco Follini will attend, according to a statement they made to Ansa news agency.

Weight Loss

The pope has been unable to speak in public since the surgery and has lost almost 20 kilograms (44 pounds). In his few public appearances since leaving the hospital March 17, the pope has appeared to struggle to breathe and has been limited to waving to crowds of well-wishers and making the sign of the cross to bless his followers.

The Vatican said yesterday that the pope was receiving food through a feeding tube in his nose. He has compared his suffering to that of Christ and has repeatedly said that he would never resign even as his aides had to assume more and more responsibility for running the Vatican.

``I see the pope as the best possible example of human strength and dignity; he is teaching us this, maybe for the last time,'' said Maria Jankowska, 56, a high school teacher in the city of Tomaszow Mazowiecki, central Poland.

Polish-born Karol Jozef Wojtyla has held the throne of St. Peter for more than 26 years, the third-longest pontificate in history, and the length of his papacy is only surpassed by that of Pius IX in the 19th century and St. Peter. He was the first non-Italian elected pope since Adrian VI more than 450 years ago.

Soviet Demise

He is credited with speeding the demise of the former Soviet Union, ushering in the spread of democracy in his native Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe.

The leader of the Solidarity labor union movement and Poland's first freely elected post-communist president, Lech Walesa, said the pope was largely responsible for the fall of communism throughout Eastern Europe.

``The pope told me: `Do not be afraid - change the face of the globe,'' Walesa said in an interview with Poland's TVN24 channel, describing a meeting with the pontiff during his visit to Poland in 1979. That took place a year before the largest Solidarity strike and 10 years before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

``And, after that visit, the 10 or so people who were active in the anti-communist opposition expanded into 10 million people ready to protest, ready to strike, people who trusted that communism could be defeated,'' Walesa said.

Church Doctrine

The pope also aggressively supported church doctrine, opposing a bigger role for women in the church, purging more progressive priests, particularly those in Latin America espousing ``liberation theology,'' and shoring up the Vatican's staunch opposition to abortion and birth control.

People flocked to St. Peter's Square after the initial reports of his high fever last night at 11 p.m. and Rome police closed off the main road to the Vatican, the Via della Conciliazione, to car traffic. Today the basilica remained open and thousands of visitors streamed into the square, some stopping to pray beneath the window of the pope's apartment, where he would regularly bless crowds of faithful after Sunday mass.

`Real Pope'

``He's struggling but he looks peaceful and he's preparing for a serene death,'' said Marcia Parecida Kniphoff, 33, a Brazilian of Polish origins who lives in Latina, near Rome. ``John Paul II has been a real pope, bringing God close to people. I've come here this morning to pay a tribute and say goodbye to him.''

Politics also came to a standstill. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi called on all parties to suspend campaigning for regional elections to be held April 3-4.

The critically ill pope approved the appointment of a number of new bishops and other church officials, the Vatican said in a statement issued some four hours after the last news on his health. It gave no new information about his condition.

The sacrament of the sick, received by the pope, is ``intended to strengthen those who are being tried by illness,'' according to the ``Catechism of the Catholic Church,'' whose preparation the pope supervised more than a decade ago.

The sacrament given to the pope used to be known as the last rites and was only given to someone who was very near death. Since the early 1970s the prayer is administered to anyone who is seriously ill. The sacrament involves the laying on of hands and prayer by a priest.

To contact the reporter on this story:

Andrew Davis in Rome at abdavis@bloomberg.net;

Flavia Krause-Jackson in Rome at fjackson@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story:

Heather Harris at hharris@bloomberg.net

Chris Kirkham at ckirkham@bloomberg.net

Last Updated: April 1, 2005 10:29 EST


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April 2, 2005

Pope John Paul II dies at 84

VATICAN CITY (AP) - Pope John Paul, who helped topple communist governments in Europe and left a deeply conservative stamp on the church he led for 26 years, died Saturday night in his Vatican apartment, ending a long public struggle against debilitating illness.

He was 84.

"We all feel like orphans this evening," Vatican undersecretary of state Archbishop Leonardo Sandri told the crowd of 70,000 that gathered in St. Peter's Square below the Pope's still-lighted apartment windows.

A mass was scheduled for St. Peter's Square for 10:30 a.m. local time Sunday. The Pope's body was expected to be taken to St. Peter's Basilica no earlier than Monday afternoon, the Vatican said.

It said the College of Cardinals - the red-robed "princes" of the Roman Catholic church - would meet at 10 a.m. local time Monday. They are expected to set a funeral date, which the Vatican said probably would be between Wednesday and Friday.

The statement did not give a precise cause of death.

Bells pealed in mourning after the Vatican said the Pope died at 9:37 p.m. local time. The assembled flock fell into a stunned silence before some people broke out in applause - an Italian tradition in which mourners often clap for important figures. Others wept.

John Paul's passing set in motion centuries of tradition that mark the death of the leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, whom he led into the faith's third millennium.

The Vatican chamberlain formally verified the death and destroyed the symbols of the Pope's authority: his fisherman's ring and dies used to make lead seals for apostolic letters.

The Vatican did not say if the chamberlain followed the ancient practice of verification by calling the Pope's name three times and tapping his forehead three times with a silver hammer.

John Paul's funeral will be held within four to six days. The Vatican has declined to say whether he left instructions for his funeral or burial. Most popes in recent centuries have asked to be buried in the crypts below St. Peter's Basilica but some have suggested the first Polish-born pope might have chosen to be laid to rest in his native country.

As John Paul's death neared, members of the College of Cardinals were already headed toward the Vatican to prepare for the secret duty of locking themselves in the Sistine Chapel to elect the next pope. Tradition calls for the process to begin within 20 days of death.

Among possible successors are German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger - one of the Pope's closest aides and the Vatican's doctrinal watchdog. Others mentioned include Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, Oscar Cardinal Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras, Francis Cardinal Arinze, a Vatican-based Nigerian, Christoph Cardinal Schoenborn of Austria and Dionigi Cardinal Tettamanzi of Italy.

Karol Joseph Wojtyla was a robust 58 when the last papal conclave stunned the world and elected the cardinal from Krakow, the first non-Italian pope in 455 years.

In his later years, John Paul - the most-travelled pope in history - was the picture of frailty. In addition to Parkinson's, he survived a 1981 assassination attempt, when a Turkish gunman shot him in the abdomen and had hip and knee ailments. His anguished struggle with failing health became a symbol of aging and, in the end, death with dignity.

Outside the Vatican, the crowd of faithful recited the rosary. A seminarian slowly waved a large red-white Polish flag draped with a black band of mourning for the pontiff.

Prelates asked those in the square to keep silent so they might "accompany the Pope in his first steps into heaven."

As the bells tolled in mourning, a group of young people sang: "Alleluia, he will rise again," while one of them strummed a guitar.

Later, pilgrims joined in singing "Ave Maria."

"The angels welcome you," Vatican TV said after papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls announced the death of the Pope, who had for years suffered from Parkinson's disease and came down with fever and infections in recent weeks.

In contrast to the church's ancient traditions, Navarro-Valls announced the death to journalists in the most modern of communication forms, an e-mail that said: "The Holy Father died this evening at 9:37 p.m. in his private apartment."

The spokesman said church officials were following instructions John Paul had written for them Feb. 22, 1996.

"He was a marvellous man. Now he's no longer suffering," Concetta Sposato, a pilgrim who heard the Pope had died as she was on her way to St. Peter's to pray, said tearfully.

"My father died last year. For me, it feels the same," said Elisabetta Pomacalca, a 25-year-old Peruvian who lives in Rome.

"I'm Polish. For us, he was a father," said pilgrim Beata Sowa.

In Washington, President George W. Bush mourned the loss of "a good and faithful servant of God (who) has been called home" and said the pontiff "launched a democratic revolution that swept Eastern Europe and changed the course of history."

A fierce enemy of communism, John Paul set off the sparks that helped bring down the communist-led government in Poland, from whence a virtual revolution spread across the Soviet bloc. Deposed Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev said much of the credit went to John Paul.

But his Polish roots also nourished a doctrinal conservatism - opposition to contraception, abortion and women priests - that rankled liberal Roman Catholics in the United States and western Europe.

A man who had lived under both the Nazis and the Soviets, he loathed totalitarianism, which he called "substitute religion." As pope, he helped foster Poland's anti-communist Solidarity movement. Once the Communists were overthrown, he decried capitalist callousness.

During the Second World War, he appeared on a Nazi blacklist in 1944 for his activities in a Christian democratic underground in Poland. B'nai B'rith and other organizations testified he helped Jews find refuge from the Nazis.

While the Pope championed better relations with Jews - Christianity's "older brothers," as he put it - the Vatican formally recognized Israel in 1993. He also met with the late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat and urged the Holy Land's warring neighbours to reconcile.

John Paul was intent on improving relations with Muslims. On a trip to Syria, in May 2001, he became the first pope to step into a mosque.

The 264th pope also battled what he called a "culture of death" in modern society. It made him a hero to those who saw him as their rock in a degenerating world and a foe to those who felt he was holding back social enlightenment.

"The church cannot be an association of freethinkers," John Paul said.

However, a sex-abuse scandal among clergy plunged his church into moral crisis. He summoned U.S. cardinals to the Vatican and told them: "The abuse which has caused this crisis is by every standard wrong and rightly considered a crime by society; it is also an appalling sin in the eyes of God."

Critics accused the Pope of not acting swiftly enough.

Other critics said while the Pope championed the world's poor, he was not consistent when he rebuked Latin American priests who sought to involve the church politically through the doctrine of "liberation theology."

John Paul's health declined rapidly after he suffered heart and kidney failure following two hospital stays in as many months. Just two hours before announcing his death, the Vatican had said he was in "very serious" condition, although he was responding to aides.

After his passing, Vatican, Italian and European Union flags were lowered to half-mast.

People in John Paul's hometown Wadowice, Poland, fell to their knees and wept as the news reached them at the end of a special mass in the church where he worshipped as a boy.

Church bells rang out after the announcement but it took several minutes for people inside the packed church to find out as they continued their vigil into a second night.

Then the parish priest, Rev. Jakub Gil, came to the front as the last hymn faded away.

"His life has come to an end. Our great countryman has died," he said.

People inside the church and standing outside fell to their knees.

The Pope was last seen in public Wednesday when, looking gaunt and unable to speak, he briefly appeared at his window.

His health sharply deteriorated the next day after he suffered a urinary tract infection.

In its final medical statement Saturday, Navarro-Valls said John Paul was not in a coma and opened his eyes when spoken to.

But he added: "Since dawn this morning, there have been first signs that consciousness is being affected."

"Sometimes it seems as if he were resting with his eyes closed, but when you speak to him he opens his eyes," Navarro-Valls said.

Navarro-Valls said the Pope was still speaking late Friday but did not take part when mass was celebrated in his presence Saturday morning.

He said aides had told the Pope thousands of young people were in St. Peter's Square on Friday evening. Navarro-Valls said the Pope appeared to be referring to them when he seemed to say: "'I have looked for you. Now you have come to me."

"And I thank you."'


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