The condition of Pope John Paul II deteriorated drastically on Friday after the leader of the Catholic Church suffered a heart attack late on Thursday night. Vatican officials gave the pope the communion for the dying.
Pope John Paul II is struggling between life and death after suffering a heart attack, the Vatican said Friday after the pontiff's condition deteriorated dramatically and he received communion for the dying.
"This morning the health of the Holy Father is very serious," Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said. "Following a urinary tract infection, a septic shock with a cardio-circulatory collapse occurred."
The 84-year-old pontiff is "conscious, lucid and serene. At 19:17 CET on Thursday he received the Saint Viaticum," the spokesman said, referring to the rites administered to the ill when approaching death.
The pope was immediately given "the appropriate cardio-respiratory assistance," he said. It was not clear if the pope had been connected to a life-support machine. It was highly unusual for the Vatican to reveal such details of the pope's condition, a signal that it was preparing the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics for the demise of John Paul II.
The Polish-born pope is being treated by medical staff at the Vatican and refused to return to Rome's Gemelli clinic where he was hospitalized twice in the past two months.
"The Holy Father's wish to remain in his home was respected, where complete and efficient medical assistance was assured," said the spokesman.
Confusion reigns as pope's condition worsens
The statement came after a dramatic night in which conflicting reports emerged on the pope's condition, with the Vatican Radio saying his condition had stabilized while some Italian televisions reported him on his deathbed.
As news of the pope's crisis spread, hundreds of followers gathered near the Vatican, some praying, some crying. Authorities had sealed off St. Peter's square but the faithful filled the surrounding streets.
"I am scared that that's it ... maybe he's dead, maybe he's dying," said Jennifer Cole of Los Angeles in tears. "It doesn't matter if he's already dead; I wanted to be here anyway."
The Vatican admitted Wednesday that the pope was making a "slow" recovery following a throat operation on February 24 and had to be fed through a nasal tube. Vatican sources said the pontiff, who suffers from Parkinson's disease, had lost some 19 kilograms (42 pounds) since his operation. The pope reportedly has insisted that he wants to die at the Vatican.
Last wish is to die at home
"It was the last wish of Pope John Paul II: to not die ... in the entrance hall of a hospital, but to end his days in dignity as a Roman pontiff, in his room overlooking St. Peter's," daily La Repubblica wrote Friday. Other Italian newspapers were filled with gloom. "The pope is dying" headlined daily Il Giornale. Libero daily wrote: "The pope can't make it."
Italian Cardinal Achille Silvestrini underlined Friday that the previous day's announcement by the Vatican -- which usually refrains from making alarming statements -- "means that there is really a lot of fear and that maybe they want us to understand to prepare for the worst."
Concerns raised over Vatican power vacuum
In an ominous sign, the lights of the pope's apartment were turned on and later switched off and only the lights of the papal infirmary were on early Friday.
The sickness of the pope, who appeared visibly thinner and frail in his last appearance at his window on Wednesday, has raised concerns of a power vacuum at the top of the Church. Some observers have reported that the close circle of cardinals around the pope have made "a pact" to maintain the status quo as uncertainty over his heal