Poe John Paull II Dies

Saturday, April 02, 2005

April 02, 2005

The Pope of Popes
From Richard Owen in Rome


HE HAD received the last rites and the Vatican was openly preparing for his passing. But even as the life ebbed from his afflicted body yesterday, Pope John Paul II kept fighting.

As the world prayed for the dying pontiff and cardinals began to fly to Rome to prepare for the succession, the Vatican announced that the Pope had appointed 17 bishops and archbishops and accepted the resignation of six others.

Having declined further hospital treatment, the 84-year-old pontiff lay in his private quarters attended by four doctors, a cardiologist and two nurses. He had suffered heart failure and septic shock, his kidneys were failing and he was struggling to breathe.

“They were giving him oxygen through the nose. I blessed him and he tried to make the sign of the Cross,” Edmund Szoka, the Polish-American governor of Vatican City, said.

The Pope remained conscious until the evening. He received several senior cardinals, participated in early-morning Mass and asked aides to read him the biblical passage describing how Christ’s body was taken down from the Cross, wrapped in a linen shroud and placed in His tomb.

Outside a crowd which, by midnight, had swollen to around 70,000 gathered in of St Peter’s Square and gazed tearfully at the third-floor window where the final act of the Pope’s extraordinary life was playing out. They listened to the latest developments on radios and mobile telephones. Each report swept through the sea of people — the Pope was unconscious; his heart had stopped beating; a Vatican denial that he had died.

Monsignor Angelo Comastri, the Vicar General for Vatican City, told the crowd: “This evening or this night, Christ opens the door to the Pope.”

Alvaro Alvarez Escobar, a Mexican priest in the square said: “I’m not here to pray for the Pope to get well. I’m not here to pray for the Pope to die. I’m here to pray to God to do what he has to do.”

The windows of the Pope’s apartment lit up an otherwise darkened Apostolic Palace. Most in the square stood still and silent after prayers ended.

The Vatican had made no attempt to disguise the seriousness of the situation. Joaquín Navarro-Valls, the Pope’s normally impassive spokesman, fought back tears as he announced that his condition was very grave. Cardinal Andrzej Maria Deskur, of Poland, a close friend, said that the Pope was “fading away serenely”.

Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the Vicar of Rome, who has the task of announcing the Pope’s death, said that the pontiff had “completely left himself in God’s hands”.

Around the world, millions of Catholics waited and prayed. From the Holy Land to the Indonesian island of Nias, devastated by Monday’s earthquake, from the few remaining Christian churches of Iraq to the teeming congregations of Africa and Latin America, they prayed for his recovery or for a peaceful end to his suffering.

The White House said that President and Mrs Bush were praying for the Pope, and that the world’s concern was a “testimony to his greatness”.

In an Istanbul prison cell, Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turkish extremist who tried to assassinate the Pope in 1981, was praying for his “brother”, according to his lawyer. The two men have long since made their peace. Thousands gathered outside the basilica in the Polish town of Wadowice, where Karol Wojtyla was born in 1920, many weeping.

As a mark of respect, Italian politicians stopped campaigning in important regional elections tomorrow.

The death of a Pope is traditionally verified by the Cardinal Chamberlain, in this case Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo of Spain. There follow nine days of official mourning, with the funeral taking place between the fourth and sixth days. It is not yet known whether the Pope has asked to be buried in Rome, in accordance with tradition, or Poland, where he did so much to destroy communism.

In the interregnum, power in the Vatican passes not to the Secretary of State or any other senior official but to the chamberlain or camerlengo.

There is no post-mortem. The chamberlain seals up the papal properties, including his private apartment and his summer residence at Castelgandolfo and breaks the papal “Fisherman’s” ring and seal.

The conclave to elect the next pope has to begin not less than 15 days and not more than 20 days after the Pope’s death, allowing time for cardinals to assemble from all over the world. Their deliberations part horse-trading, part divine inspiration, can take hours, days or weeks before a puff of white smoke from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel announces that they have reached a decision.

Walter Veltroni, the Mayor of Rome, said that he was planning to erect a tented city for the thousands of young people who are pouring into Rome to witness the transition.



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