Millions Worldwide Mourn Pope John Paul II
1 hour, 12 minutes ago
By VICTOR L. SIMPSON, Associated Press Writer
VATICAN CITY - Pope John Paul II, who helped topple communism in Europe and left a deeply conservative stamp on the church that 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," 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.
In the massive piazza that stretches from St. Peter's Basilica, the assembled flock fell into a stunned silence before some people broke into applause — an Italian tradition in which mourners often clap for important figures. Others wept. Still others recited the rosary. A seminarian slowly waved a large red and white Polish flag draped with black bunting for the Polish-born pontiff, the most-traveled pope in history.
At one point, prelates asked those in the square to stay silent so they might "accompany the pope in his first steps into heaven."
But as the
"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 now would be following instructions that John Paul had written for them on Feb. 22, 1996. A precise cause of death was not given.
In the last two days of the pope's life, after it had become clear
he would not recover, the tide of humanity near the
"He was a marvelous 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
"I'm Polish. For us, he was a father," said pilgrim Beata Sowa.
Death came as the pope was staring at his window which looked out over the crowds gathered in St. Peter's Square, a Polish priest told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica.
According to the newspaper, Rev. Jarek Cielecki said the pope raised his right hand as if to offer a blessing to those reciting the rosary in the square.
"Once the faithfuls' prayer ended the pope made a huge effort and pronounced the word 'Amen'," he said. "An instant later he died."
It was unclear how Cielecki learned of the details.
A Mass was scheduled for St. Peter's Square for 10:30 a.m. (4:30
a.m. EDT) Sunday. The pope's body was expected to be taken to the basilica no
earlier than Monday afternoon, the
It said the College of Cardinals — the red-robed
"princes" of the Roman Catholic Church — would meet at 10 a.m. (4
a.m. EDT) Monday in a pre-conclave session. They were expected to set a funeral
date, which the
Karol Joseph Wojtyla was a robust 58
when the last papal conclave stunned the world and elected the cardinal from
In his later years, John Paul 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.
People in John Paul II's hometown in
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, the 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.
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.
As John Paul's death neared, members of the College of Cardinals
were already headed toward the
Among possible successors are German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — one of the pope's closest aides and the
A fierce enemy of communism, John Paul set off the sparks that
helped bring down communism in
But his Polish roots also nourished a doctrinal conservatism. He reaffirmed the church's ban on artificial birth control and denounced in vitro fertilization, abortion, euthanasia, divorce, sex outside marriage, homosexual relations and same-sex unions.
He demanded celibacy of Roman Catholic priests and said yet again that the priesthood was not open to women. He did give in to the demands of liberal Catholics to allow altar girls.
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
During World War II, he appeared on a Nazi blacklist in 1944 for
his activities in a Christian democratic underground in
While the pope championed better relations with Jews —
Christianity's "older brothers," as he put it — the
John Paul was intent on improving relations with Muslims. On a
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
Other critics said that 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 after he was hospitalized twice in as many months. Just two
hours before announcing his death, the
After his passing,
The pope's final public appearance was 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 his last 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 that 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.'"
Associated Press reporters Nicole Winfield, Frances D'Emilio, William J. Kole and
Brian Murphy in