Vatican Says Pope John Paul II Dies at 84

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PhotoBy VICTOR L. SIMPSON, Associated Press Writer

VATICAN CITY - Pope John Paul II, the Polish pontiff who led the Roman Catholic Church for more than a quarter century and became history's most-traveled pope, died Saturday night in his Vatican apartment. He was 84.

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"The angels welcome you," Vatican TV said after the announcement came from papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls.

"The Holy Father died this evening at 9:37 p.m. (2:37 p.m. EST) in his private apartment. All the procedures outlined in the apostolic Constitution `Universi Dominici Gregis' that was written by John Paul II on Feb. 22, 1996, have been put in motion," Navarro-Valls said.

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican No. 2 official, led a tearful crowd of 70,000 people in St. Peter's Square in prayers for the pope.

Some people held their hands to their heads in disbelief. Others cried uncontrollably as they stood in the massive plaza beneath the pope's still-lighted apartment windows.

A Mass was scheduled for St. Peter's Square for 10:30 a.m. (4:30 a.m. EDT) Sunday.

John Paul declined rapidly after suffering heart and kidney failure following two hospitalizations 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.

Since his surprise election in 1978, John Paul traveled the world, inspiring a revolt against communism in his native Poland and across the Soviet bloc, but also preaching against consumerism, contraception and abortion.

John Paul was a robust 58 when the cardinals stunned the world and elected the cardinal from Krakow, the first non-Italian pope in 455 years.

In his later years, however, John Paul was the picture of frailty, weighed down by ailments that included Parkinson's disease. Although he kept up his travels, he was no longer able to kiss the ground.