Pope’s Condition Worsens
by John Thavis
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope John Paul II’s condition continued to worsen with a drop in blood pressure, shallow breathing and insufficient heart and kidney function, the Vatican announced.
“The general conditions and cardiorespiratory conditions of the Holy Father have further worsened,” Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said in a statement released the evening of April 1. He said the pope’s “biological parameters are notably compromised.”

“The Holy Father — with visible participation — is joining in the continual prayers of those assisting him,” he said.

The pope’s crisis began March 31 when a urinary tract infection led to septic shock and heart failure. The following morning, he remained in grave condition, although conscious and able to pray with top aides, the Vatican said. Throughout the day, Navarro-Valls emphasized the gravity of the pope’s condition.

The 84-year-old pontiff suffered the setback when he developed a high fever after the infection. Treatment with antibiotics stabilized the situation temporarily, but “in the hours that followed there was a negative evolution,” the Vatican said. The pope received cardiorespiratory assistance, it said.

Navarro-Valls said the pope woke early April 1 and concelebrated Mass from his bed. During the morning, the pope asked aides to read him the 14 Stations of the Cross, a devotion he has followed every Friday, and the Liturgy of the Hours and passages of Scripture.

Navarro-Valls said the pope had immediately been informed of the seriousness of the situation and had asked if hospitalization was absolutely necessary. When doctors said it was possible to care for him in the Vatican, the pope decided to stay in his apartment, the spokesman said.

Navarro-Valls said he visited the papal apartment the morning of April 1 and saw the pope. The spokesman, holding back tears, later told reporters: “Certainly, it was an image I have never seen in these 26 years. He was lucid and serene, but obviously having trouble breathing.” The papal spokesman said the Vatican press office would remain open all day and all night.

The Vatican said that on March 31 Pope John Paul received “holy viaticum,” a formal reference to the Eucharist when it is given to someone approaching death. The spokesman did not say whether the pope also received the sacraments of reconciliation and anointing of the sick, which usually are part of the last rites.

The following day, the pope received visits from several top Vatican officials, including Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state; Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, dean of the College of Cardinals; Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the papal vicar of Rome, whose job it is to announce the pope’s death to the faithful; and U.S. Cardinal Edmund C. Szoka, the head of the Vatican City State governor’s office.

In the afternoon April 1, the Vatican announced 15 papal appointments in dioceses around the world and the establishment of an apostolic administration in the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan. The Vatican said the appointments had been approved by the pope over the previous six weeks.

The pope was being treated by his personal physician, Dr. Renato Buzzonetti, and by a cardiologist, a throat specialist and two specialists in intensive care, Navarro-Valls said.

The Vatican recently finished installing medical equipment in the papal apartment to help the pontiff recover from serious breathing problems. He had a tracheotomy, the insertion of a tube in the throat to aid breathing, in late February.

After his latest public appearance at his apartment window March 30, doctors also inserted a feeding tube through the pope’s nose to his stomach, to aid his nutrition.

Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, head of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, told the Italian state television RAI that it was clear the pope’s condition was “very, very serious” and that the prognosis was pessimistic.

Hundreds of faithful and journalists gathered under the pope’s apartment window late March 31 and again in the morning April 1. Some came to pray, some to hear news and a few to leave flowers. Police cordoned off the square and the main road leading to the Vatican.

Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni, the chief rabbi of Rome, was in St. Peter’s Square where, he said, he came to pray and to offer “a sign of participation and sharing at a very difficult moment for the church.”

The rabbi said Pope John Paul would be “remembered in our prayers” at Friday evening Sabbath services across Italy.

U.S. Mercy Sister Mary Ann Clarahan, a professor of liturgy and sacraments at Regina Mundi University in Rome, said she came to the square when she heard about the pope’s condition.

“I think he has given us an example of the dignity of life, even when he is suffering; that’s his greatest legacy,” she said.

Enza Marotta of Rome said: “He has suffered so much. He has been so good, a great pope. He does not deserve to suffer. We are in pain for him.”

Mauro Gori of Rome came in the morning from his home near Rome’s Gemelli hospital; he had gone to the hospital several times when the pope was there in February and March.

“I’m just praying, not for anything specific,” he said. “He is a great man, although not perfect. His successor will face a huge task. It is not easy to succeed a great pope, one who has created such strong reactions” both within and outside the church.

I can’t bring myself to feel sad–he’s going to be with God. A reason for much rejoicing as far as I’m concerned. Even though it’s bitter sweet. But it seems like even he’s scared to leave this world.

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