Pope John Paul II’s Final Days
Pope John Paul II passed away April 2, 2005. He lived his final days out at the Vatican rather than return to the hospital. Read about the pope's illness and prayers for him.
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope John Paul II died April 2 after a long struggle with illness, ending a historic papacy of more than 26 years. The Vatican announced the pope's death at 9:54 p.m. Rome time, two days after the pontiff suffered septic shock and heart failure brought on by a urinary tract infection. The pope died at 9:37 p.m., the Vatican said.
Conscious and alert the day before his death, he was able to concelebrate Mass in his papal apartment, the Vatican said. The pope began slipping in and out of consciousness the morning of April 2, and died that night, it said.
Tens of thousands of faithful streamed to St. Peter's Square as the pope lay dying, some staying all night in quiet and moving vigils, aware that there was little hope for his recovery. Shortly before his death, U.S. Cardinal Edmund C. Szoka led a candlelight prayer service in the packed square. "Like children, we draw close around our beloved Holy Father, who taught us how to follow Jesus and how to love and serve the church and the people," Cardinal Szoka said. "This is the gift we present to him as he prepares to take his last journey. May the Madonna present him to her Son and obtain for him, through her intercession, the reward promised to the faithful servants of the Gospel," the cardinal said. The pope's death was announced in St. Peter's Square after the prayer service.
The 84-year-old Polish pontiff had been hospitalized twice in recent weeks for spasms of the larynx, and in late February he underwent a tracheotomy to make breathing less difficult. Doctors inserted a nasogastric feeding tube to aid nutrition March 30. The evening of March 31, the pope's infection caused a high fever and septic shock, which brought on heart failure. He was treated immediately with antibiotics and respiratory equipment that had been installed in the papal apartment, and his condition stabilized temporarily. But in his statement early April 1, Navarro-Valls made it clear the pope's condition was deteriorating.
On the evening of March 31, the pope received the "holy viaticum," a reference to the Eucharist given when a person is approaching death, the Vatican said. It was the pope himself who decided to be treated at the Vatican instead of being taken to the hospital, said Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls. Cardinal Mario Francesco Pompedda, who visited the dying pope, described the scene in the pope's bedroom: Assisted by several doctors and his personal staff, the pontiff lay serenely on a bed in the middle of his room, comforted by cushions, occasionally opening his eyes in greeting to the handful of visitors allowed inside.
At his last, poignant public appearance at his apartment window March 30, the pope greeted pilgrims in St. Peter's Square and tried in vain to speak to them. After four minutes, he was wheeled from view, and the curtains of his apartment window were drawn for the last time.
For more than a decade, the pope suffered from a neurological disorder believed to be Parkinson's disease. As the pope's health failed in recent months, many of his close aides said his physical decline, never hidden from public view, offered a remarkable Christian witness of suffering.
The pope's death ends a history-making pontificate of more than 26 years, one that dramatically changed the church and left its mark on the world. Many observers consider Pope John Paul an unparalleled protagonist in the political and spiritual events that shaped the modern age, from the end of the Cold War to the start of the third millennium. For the church, the pope's death set in motion a period of official mourning and reflection that will culminate in the election of his successor.
Pope John Paul's funeral, expected to be attended by world leaders from far and wide, will take place four to six days after his death. Cardinals were already making their way to Rome to participate in a papal conclave or election, scheduled to begin 15-20 days after his death. The 183 members of the College of Cardinals were to participate in preliminary discussions before the election, and the 117 cardinals under the age of 80 were eligible to vote in the closed-door conclave.
A youthful 58 when elected in 1978, the pope experienced health problems early. He was shot and almost killed in 1981 and spent several months in the hospital being treated for abdominal wounds and a blood infection. In later years, he suffered a dislocated shoulder, a broken thigh bone, arthritis of the knee and an appendectomy. He stopped walking in public in 2003 and stopped celebrating public liturgies in 2004.
In recent years, the pope spoke with increasing frequency about his age, his failing health and death. He was determined to stay at the helm of the church, but also said he was prepared to be called to the next life. "It is wonderful to be able to give oneself to the very end for the sake of the kingdom of God. At the same time, I find great peace in thinking of the time when the Lord will call me: from life to life," he said in a 1999 letter written to the world's elderly.
The pope continued: "And so I often find myself saying, with no trace of melancholy, a prayer recited by priests after the celebration of the Eucharist: 'In hora mortis meae voca me, et iube me venire ad te' (at the hour of my death, call me and bid me come to you). This is the prayer of Christian hope," he said.
In the hours before his death, prayers went up from all over the world on the pope's behalf, from China to the pope's native Poland, from Christians and non-Christians. Rabbi Riccardo di Segni, the chief rabbi of Rome, came to St. Peter's Square to pray, saying he wanted to offer "a sign of participation" with the church. As the pope lay dying, journalists who tried to enter the square were turned away unless they were coming to pray.
The world's media arrived in unprecedented force, surrounding the Vatican with broadcasting trucks and film crews. A supplementary press office was prepared for the thousands of reporters expected to arrive for the pope's funeral and the conclave. The Vatican's Web site was overloaded soon after the pope's situation took the turn for the worse, and the Vatican switchboard was jammed. Email messages also poured in, offering prayers and condolences.
The city of Rome announced plans to deal with the flood of visitors expected in Rome in the days after the pope's death. A special bus line was to run directly to the Vatican from the train station, and officials said they would set up tents around the Vatican to provide assistance to pilgrims.
Contributing to this story were Cindy Wooden and Eleni Dimmler in Rome.
Copyright (c) 2005 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
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