Pope's condition worsens

The Associated Press

VATICAN CITY - Pope John Paul II was near death as dawn approached Saturday, his breathing shallow and his heart and kidneys failing, the Vatican said. Millions of faithful around the world paid homage, many weeping as they knelt with bowed heads, others carrying candles in prayer for the 84-year-old pontiff.

The pope "is on the verge of death," Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, head of the Vatican's health care office, told the Mexican television network Televisa. "I talked to the doctors and they told me there is no more hope."

Addressing the crowd at St. Peter's Square, where as many as 70,000 people prayed and stood vigil in the chilly night, Angelo Comastri, the pope's vicar general for Vatican City, said "This evening or this night, Christ opens the door to the pope,"

At times the huge gathering fell so silent the sound of the square's trickling fountains was audible. At other points, the crowd sang, "Stay with us!" But as dawn approached, the numbers in the sprawling plaza diminished. Many of those who stayed wrapped themselves in blankets and gazed tearfully at John Paul's third-floor windows, where the lights remained in the pope's studio and his secretary's room. The papal bedroom was not lit.

Around the world, priests readied Roman Catholics for John Paul's passing. Many expressed hope that his final hours would be peaceful.

"Now he prepares to meet the Lord," Cardinal Francis George said at a Mass in Chicago. "As the portals of death open for him, as they will for each of us ... we must accompany him with our own prayers."

Newspapers in Italy devoted most of their Saturday editions to the suffering of the Polish pope, whose given name is Karol Wojtyla. Il Tempo showed a photo of the white-clad pontiff with his back turned to the camera, with the headline, "Ciao, Karol."

The Il Secolo XIX newspaper of Genoa reported that the pope, with the help of his private secretary Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, wrote a note to his aides urging them not to weep for him.

"I am happy, and you should be as well," the note reportedly said. "Let us pray together with joy."

The Vatican said Friday morning that John Paul was in "very grave" condition after suffering blood poisoning from a urinary tract infection the previous night, but that he was "fully conscious and extraordinarily serene." The pope was being treated by the Vatican medical team and declined to be hospitalized.

By Friday night, the pope's condition had worsened further, and he was suffering from kidney failure and shortness of breath but had not lost consciousness as of 9:30 p.m., the Vatican said.

As word of his condition spread across the globe, special Masses celebrated the pope for transforming the Roman Catholic Church during his 26-year papacy and for his example in fearlessly confronting death.

In Wadowice, Poland, people left school and work early and headed to church to pray for their native son.

"I want him to hold on, but it is all in God's hands now," said 64-year-old Elzbieta Galuszko at the church where the pope was baptized. "We can only pray for him so he can pull through these difficult moments."

In the Philippines, tears streamed down the face of Linda Nicol as she and her husband asked God to grant John Paul "a longer life."

At the Church of the Assumption in Lagos, sub-Saharan Africa's most populous city of over 13 million, about 200 Nigerians in Western clothes and bright traditional African robes sat on wooden benches, offering prayers for the pope at a midday Mass.

In Washington, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick said he had heard from Rome that the pope was "sinking." McCarrick said he prayed that God will "take him peacefully."

The White House said President Bush and his wife were praying for the pope and that the world's concern was "a testimony to his greatness."

Karol Wojtyla became a priest in 1946, just as the Iron Curtain descended across Europe, and the inspiration he provided as Pope John Paul II helped to tear it down.

"Fifty percent of the collapse of communism is his doing," Lech Walesa, founder of the Solidarity movement that toppled communism in Poland in 1989-90, told The Associated Press on Friday. Without the pope's leadership, "communism would have fallen, but much later and in a bloody way," he said.

By afternoon in Rome, a steady stream of pilgrims jammed the Via della Conciliazione, the main avenue leading to St. Peter's. Some carried candles, while others held rosaries. Some looked through binoculars or camera lenses at the window of John Paul's apartment.

"We are near to him in prayer so that he can go to heaven, welcomed by the Lord and the other saints," said Rossella Longo, a young woman distributing rosaries to the crowd.

Tripp McLaughlin, a 20-year-old American in Rome, said "it would be a blessing if he passed on."

"You see video of him when he became pope, he was so alive, so excited to be here. Now to see him break down is just really sad," McLaughlin said.

Among those at the square Friday morning was Rome's chief rabbi, Riccardo Di Segni, who said he came "to pray here in the piazza as a sign of sharing in the grief of our brothers for their concerns and as a sign of warmth for this pope and for all that he has done."

During the morning, John Paul had participated in Mass and received some top aides at his bedside, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said.

Cardinal Marcio Francesco Pompedda, a high-ranking Vatican administrator, visited the pope and said he opened his eyes and smiled.

"I understood he recognized me. It was a wonderful smile -I'll remember it forever. It was a benevolent smile -a father-like smile," Pompedda told RAI television. "I also noticed that he wanted to tell me something but he could not. ... But what impressed me very much was his expression of serenity."

Hospitalized twice last month after breathing crises, and fitted with a breathing tube and a feeding tube, John Paul has become a picture of suffering. His papacy has been marked by its call to value the aged and to respect the sick, subjects the pope has turned to as he battles Parkinson's disease and crippling knee and hip ailments.

It is not clear who would be empowered to make medical decisions for an unconscious pope. The Vatican has declined to say whether John Paul has left written instructions.

John Paul's health declined sharply Thursday when he developed a high fever brought on by the infection. The pope suffered septic shock and heart problems during treatment for the infection, the Vatican said.

Septic shock involves both bacteria in the blood and a consequent over-relaxing of the blood vessels. The vessels, which are normally narrow and taut, get floppy in reaction to the bacteria and can't sustain any pressure. That loss of blood pressure is catastrophic, making the heart work hard to compensate for the collapse.

Even the fittest patients need special care and medicine to survive.

"The chances of an elderly person in this condition with septic shock surviving 24 to 48 hours are slim _ about 10-20 percent, but that would be in an intensive care unit with very aggressive treatment," said Dr. Gianni Angelini, a professor of cardiac surgery at Bristol University in England.

Dr. Peter Salgo, associate director of the intensive care unit at New York Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, said the pope's shallow breathing "is totally consistent with severe failure of the blood vessels to provide blood to all the key organs. Eventually you run out of reserve."

On Friday morning, John Paul asked aides to read him the biblical passage describing the 14 stations of the Way of the Cross, the path that Christ took to his Crucifixion and burial, Navarro-Valls told reporters. The pope followed attentively and made the sign of the cross, he said.

John Paul also asked that Scripture of the so-called "Third Hour" be read to him. The passage is significant because according to tradition, Christ died at three o'clock in the afternoon.

"This is surely an image I have never seen in these 26 years," the usually unflappable Navarro-Valls said.

Choking up, he walked out of the room.


AP Medical Writer Emma Ross in Rome contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad