Gravely ill Pope losing consciousness
Pope John Paul II showed the first signs of losing consciousness at dawn on Saturday, the Vatican said, as priests around the world prepared the Roman Catholic faithful for his passing.
But John Paul, 84, was not in a coma and opened his eyes when spoken to, papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said.
The pope's health began deteriorating Thursday after he suffered a urinary tract infection. In its latest statement the Vatican, which earlier described his heart and kidneys as failing, said his condition was unchanged and "very grave."
Navarro-Valls said the pope was still speaking late Friday but did not take part when Mass was celebrated in his presence Saturday morning.
"Since dawn this morning there have been first signs that consciousness is being affected," he said.
"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.
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.'"
Vatican cardinal Achille Silvestrini visited John Paul Saturday morning, accompanied by another cardinal, Jean-Louis Tauran.
"I found him relaxed, placid, serene. He was in his bed. He was breathing without labor. He looked like he lost weight," Silvestrini said.
He said the when he and Tauran came into the room, the pope seemed to recognize them.
For a second day, the Vatican announced a series of papal appointments including a Spanish bishop, an official of the Armenian Catholic Church and ambassadors to El Salvador and Panama.
One of the pope's closest aides, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was quoted Saturday as saying that when he saw the pontiff on Friday morning, John Paul was "aware that he is passing to the Lord."
The pope "gave me the final farewell," the news agency of the Italian bishops conference quoted the German cardinal as saying Friday night.
Tourists and pilgrims streamed anew into St. Peter's Square on Saturday, and around the world, priests prepared Roman Catholics for the pope's death. Many expressed hope that his final hours would be peaceful.
"Now he prepares to meet the Lord," Cardinal Francis George said at a Mass in Chicago on Friday. "As the portals of death open for him, as they will for each of us ... we must accompany him with our own prayers."
A workman in the square, declining to give his name, told The Associated Press that crews were taking down the canopy on the steps of St. Peter's Basilica, which had covered an altar during Easter Sunday Mass. They said they had orders to clear the space for when the pope's coffin eventually is carried into the square.
Several cardinals from the United States and Latin America said they were heading to Rome. After the official mourning period following the death of a pope, cardinals hold a secret vote in the Sistine Chapel to choose a successor.
The Il Secolo XIX newspaper of Genoa reported that the pope, with the help of his private secretary Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, wrote a note to his aides urging them not to weep for him.
"I am happy, and you should be as well," the note reportedly said. "Let us pray together with joy."
However, Navarro-Valls said he couldn't confirm the report, even after speaking to the pope's secretary.
As word of his deteriorating condition spread across the globe, special Masses celebrated the pope for transforming the Roman Catholic Church during his 26-year papacy and for his example in fearlessly confronting death.
Hospitalized twice last month after breathing crises, and fitted with a breathing tube and a feeding tube, John Paul has become a picture of suffering.
His papacy has been marked by its call to value the aged and to respect the sick, subjects the pope has turned to as he battles Parkinson's disease and crippling knee and hip ailments. The pope also survived a 1981 assassination attempt, when a Turkish gunman shot him in the abdomen.
In Washington, the White House said President Bush and his wife were praying for the pope and that the world's concern was "a testimony to his greatness."
Cardinal Marcio Francesco Pompedda, a high-ranking Vatican administrator, visited the pope Friday morning and said he opened his eyes and smiled.
"I understood he recognized me. It was a wonderful smile — I'll remember it forever. It was a benevolent smile — a father-like smile," Pompedda told RAI television. He told the Milan daily Il Giornale the pope was lying in bed propped up by pillows, and twice tried but failed to say something.
"There were various tubes, and an intravenous drip, but I confess that I didn't dwell on these details," said Pompedda, adding that the pope appeared to be "suffering but serene."
John Paul's health declined sharply Thursday when he developed a high fever brought on by the infection. The pope suffered septic shock and heart problems during treatment for the infection, the Vatican said.
Septic shock involves both bacteria in the blood and a consequent over-relaxing of the blood vessels. The vessels, which are normally narrow and taut, get floppy in reaction to the bacteria and can't sustain any pressure. That loss of blood pressure is catastrophic, making the heart work hard to compensate for the collapse.
Dr. Gianni Angelini, a professor of cardiac surgery at Bristol University in England, said the chances of an elderly person in John Paul's condition surviving septic shock more than 48 hours was no more than 20 percent, "but that would be in an intensive care unit with very aggressive treatment."