NEWS STORY: Pope’s Condition Worsens as the Faithful Pray; Vatican Denies Reports of Death

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c. 2005 Religion News Service

VATICAN CITY _ Pope John Paul II took shallow but peaceful breaths as he hung on to life by a fragile thread Friday (April 1). The Vatican said his condition was worsening as his blood pressure dipped dangerously low and his kidneys had difficulty functioning.

One Italian media agency reported that medical technology indicated that the pope’s brain activity had stopped and another said his heart was no longer working. But the Vatican’s deputy spokesman, Ciro Benedettini, denied that the pope had died.

Nonetheless, the Vatican painted a bleak medical picture.

“The general condition and cardio-respiratory conditions of the Holy Father have further worsened,” said Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the Vatican spokesman, as the world prayed and waited for the man who had been a spiritual icon and beacon for millions during his 26-year papacy.

The spokesman said the pope’s “breathing has become shallow” and “the clinical picture indicates cardio-circulatory and renal insufficiency.” He said the pope’s “biological parameters are notably compromised.”

Yet despite this worsening condition, “the Holy Father _ with visible participation _ is joining in the continual prayers of those assisting him,” said Navarro-Valls.

Earlier in the day, Navarro-Valls said the pope was suffering with a urinary tract infection, septic shock and cardio-circulatory collapse. Calling John Paul’s condition “very serious,” the spokesman, fighting back tears, said the pontiff received the Holy Viaticum, the Eucharist administered to the dying.

In the Vatican and around the world, Catholics flocked to church to pray, or watched somberly on television, hoping for the best while realizing their beloved pontiff may be taking his final breaths.

Outside St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick chatted with reporters after a Mass dedicated to the Holy Father.

McCarrick urged Catholics to pray “that if it is God’s will he’ll recover, as he did after the (1981) assassination attempt. If we pray hard enough, the Lord may say you can have him for a few more years. But if that’s not God’s will, we pray he doesn’t have to suffer.”

The pope’s pain seemed to be on the minds, and hearts, of many as they heard increasingly pessimistic medical reports.

“No one wants to see him suffer. I’d rather see him peacefully go,” said Max Bonici, 20, a college student from Washington who came to a noon Mass devoted to the pontiff.

Navarro-Valls, who has a medical degree, said at a midday briefing that the pope’s blood pressure was unstable and his biological functions were volatile.

Reiterating information contained in an urgent medical bulletin he had issued in writing at 6:30 a.m. Friday (11:30 p.m. Thursday EDT), Navarro-Valls said that the condition of the 84-year-old Roman Catholic pontiff was “very serious” but that he was “conscious, lucid and serene” and had been able to concelebrate Mass a half hour earlier.

“This morning, the Holy Father’s condition of health is very serious,” the spokesman said early Friday. “In the afternoon of yesterday, March 31, as already announced, following an ascertained infection of the urinary tract, septic shock with cardio-circulatory collapse was established.”

Septic shock occurs when an overwhelming infection leads to low blood pressure and low blood flow. Vital organs, such as the brain, heart, kidneys, and liver may not function properly or may fail. It often leads to death.

Cardio-circulatory collapse is a sharp drop in blood pressure.

In an indication of the seriousness of the crisis, Navarro-Valls said that the Vatican Press Room, which normally stays open no later than 3 p.m., would remain open all night Friday.

Thousands of tourists and well-wishers began converging on St. Peter’s Square Thursday night, and some remained until after dawn. Police barred traffic from Via della Conciliazione, the broad avenue leading from the Tiber River to the Vatican, and the crowd grew during the day in warm, spring weather.

John Paul’s health has been declining since he came down with influenza in late January. His condition was complicated by Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative neurological ailment from which he has suffered for at least 15 years.

Navarro-Valls announced Thursday night that the pope was suffering from a “high fever caused by a documented urinary tract infection” and was being treated with antibiotics.

The spokesman said that doctors managed a temporary stabilization of John Paul’s condition late Thursday, but “in the following hours it evolved negatively,” and at 7:17 p.m. he received the Holy Viaticum, the Eucharist administered to the dying.

Navarro-Valls said the pope was “informed of the gravity” of his condition and chose to remain in his apartment in the Apostolic Palace, which has equipment for “a complete and effective medical assistance.”

John Paul’s medical team consisted of his personal physician, Renato Buzzzonetti; two experts in reanimation; a cardiologist; an ear, nose and throat specialist; and two nurses.

During the morning, John Paul asked to have the 14 stations of the Via Crucis _ the Good Friday liturgy of the Passion of Jesus, from his entry into Jerusalem through his trial, crucifixion and burial _ read to him, the spokesman said. He later asked to hear the Liturgy of the Third Hour and Scriptures.

The pope also received visits from Cardinals Angelo Sodano, the Vatican secretary of state; Camillo Ruini, the pope’s vicar for Rome; Edmund Szoka, a native of Grand Rapids, Mich., who is president of the government of the Vatican city-state; and Joseph Ratzinger, dean of the College of Cardinals. Archbishops Giovanni Lajolo, the Vatican’s foreign minister; Leonardo Sandi, assistant secretary of state; and Paolo Sardi, the Vatican’s top diplomatic trouble-shooter, also visited.

(Shawna Gamache contributed to this report from Washington)

MO/JM RNS END

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