.- The third-longest serving pontiff, after St. Peter and Pope Pius IX, died serenely at 9:37 p.m., Rome time, in his papal apartments overlooking St. Peter’s Square. His death, April 2, is on the eve of the Feast of the Divine Mercy, a feast-day that the Pope had instituted in the Church.
The announcement came from Vatican spokesperson Joaquin Navarro-Valls. Angelo Cardinal Sodano led the tens of thousands of Catholics and non-Catholics from around the world, who had gathered in St. Peter’s Square in prayer for the Pope.
On Friday, Camillo Cardinal Ruini celebrated an evening mass at St. John Lateran Basilica. Afterward, tens of thousands had gathered in St. Peter’s Square below the windows of the papal apartment to pray the Rosary, keep vigil, and to show the ailing pontiff their love and support.
Pope John Paul II, who had Parkinson’s and a debilitating hip and knee ailment, suffered from greater illness for the last two months. The 84-year-old Pope was admitted to hospital Feb. 1 for complications related to the flu. He was admitted three weeks later and underwent a tracheotomy.
Thursday, the Vatican reported that the Pope had developed a high fever as the result of a urinary tract infection. The Pope subsequently suffered septic shock and heart and kidney failure. By Saturday morning, he was slipping in and out of consciousness.
On Thursday, the bedridden Pope asked to be read the Stations of the Cross, Vatican spokesperson Joaquin Navarro-Valls told the press.
Navarro-Valls said Friday the Pope had told his aides that he did not want to return to hospital for treatment.
Preparations are currently under way for the Pope’s funeral, which will likely be held within six days. The papal quarters will also be sealed.
A mourning period of nearly two weeks will follow before the cardinals under the age of 80 will gather in Rome to begin the process of electing a new leader for the Catholic Church.
Elected Oct. 16, 1978, Pope John Paul II was the first non-Italian pontiff in 455 years.