By JOHN THAVIS, CNS | Published April 7, 2005
A historic papacy of more than 26 years ended with the death of Pope John Paul II on Saturday, April 2, after a long struggle with illness.
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.
Pope John Paul’s body was brought to St. Peter’s Basilica for several days of public viewing and prayer on Monday, April 4. His funeral, to be attended by world leaders from far and wide, including U.S. President George Bush and First Lady Laura Bush, will take place on Friday, April 8.
Conscious and alert the day before his death, the pope was able to concelebrate Mass in his papal apartment, the Vatican said. He 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. Many in the crowd wept, and after a long applause the square was enveloped in silent prayer. The bells of St. Peter’s Basilica tolled a steady death knell.
“Dear brothers and sisters, at 9:37 this evening our most beloved Holy Father John Paul II returned to the house of the Father. Let us pray for him,” Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, a top official of the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, told the crowd.
Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls later said, “The Holy Father’s final hours were marked by the uninterrupted prayer of all those who were assisting him in his pious death and by the choral participation in prayer of the thousands of faithful who, for many hours, had been gathered in St. Peter’s Square.”
The spokesman said those at the pope’s bedside at the moment of his death included: his personal secretaries, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz and Msgr. Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki; Cardinal Marian Jaworski, the Latin-rite archbishop of Lviv, Ukraine, and a longtime personal friend of the pope; Polish Archbishop Stanislaw Rylko, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity; and Father Tadeusz Styczen, a former student of the pope’s and director of the John Paul II Institute at Lublin University in Poland.
Also present were the three nuns who cared for the pope’s apartment, the pope’s personal physician and two other doctors and two nurses, the spokesman said.
About 90 minutes before the pope died, Navarro-Valls said, the cardinals and priests at the pope’s bedside began celebrating the Mass for Divine Mercy Sunday. During the course of the Mass, he said, the pope received Communion and the anointing of the sick.
In the square outside, Father Pablo Gadenz of Trenton, N.J., said he was sure the pope’s death would come that night or the next day, Divine Mercy Sunday, which the pope established.
“We all feel like orphans now, but it’s a time of grace, a time of faith. The Holy Spirit will guide the cardinals to choose a worthy successor, so we pray for whoever that might be,” he said.
With the crowd estimated at 100,000 people, another prayer service began at midnight and was led by Archbishop Paolo Sardi, an official in the Vatican Secretariat of State, who said, “This is a holy night of vigil and prayer in memory of our beloved Pope John Paul.”
Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who had served as the pope’s secretary of state, celebrated a memorial Mass for the pope April 3 in the square for 70,000 people.
The cardinal said Pope John Paul had spent his entire papacy promoting the “civilization of love” against the forces of hatred in the world and had called the church to be a “house of mercy, to welcome all those who need help, forgiveness and love.”
At the end of the Mass, a Vatican official read the message the pope had prepared for the midday recitation of the “Regina Coeli.”
“To humanity, which sometimes seems lost and dominated by the power of evil, selfishness and fear, the risen Lord offers the gift of his love which forgives, reconciles and opens the spirit to hope once again,” the pope had written.
When the pope died, Vatican Radio interrupted regular programming and the home page of the Vatican Web site was changed, replacing the usual drawing of St. Peter’s Basilica with the emblem used when the papacy is vacant: two crossed keys under a partially closed umbrella or canopy.
The Vatican April 3 published the information contained on the official death certificate signed by Dr. Renato Buzzonetti, the pope’s personal physician and head of the Vatican health service.
The cause of death was listed as “septic shock and irreversible cardiocirculatory collapse.”
The 84-year-old Polish pontiff had been hospitalized twice in recent weeks for spasms of the larynx, and in late February underwent a tracheotomy. Doctors inserted a nasogastric 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 who decided to be treated at the Vatican instead of being taken to the hospital, said Navarro-Valls.
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. The 117 cardinals of the church who are under the age of 80 will participate in a papal conclave or election, scheduled to begin 15-20 days after the pope’s death.
A youthful 58 when elected in 1978, the pope experienced health problems early. He was shot and almost killed in 1981 and was hospitalized for several months for abdominal wounds and a blood infection. He later suffered a dislocated shoulder, a broken thighbone, 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.