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Pope Edges Near Death As Faithful Pray and Wait

By Daniel Williams and Fred Barbash
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, April 2, 2005; 2:18 PM

ROME, Apr. 2 -- Pope John Paul II remained in "very grave" condition with a high fever as night fell in the Vatican, according to a terse statement by church officials issued late Saturday as the worldwide vigil anticipating a papal death completed a third day.

The statement said John Paul was "responding" to aides but it did not elaborate.

A group of nuns pray in St. Peter's Square, where thousands of Roman Catholics gathered throughout the day and evening on Friday as Pope John Paul II's health continued to deteriorate. (Stefano Rellandini -- Reuters)

_____Catholics Pray_____
Photo Gallery: Catholics across the world pray for the ailing Pope John Paul II as he nears death.
Video: Cardinal McCarrick remembers the pope.
Video: Catholic religous leaders urge the faithful to pray for Pope John Paul II.
Video: Mass is held at Washington's Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle.
Video: The Post's Robin Wright shares her experiences covering the pope with washingtonpost.com's Terry Neal.
_____Live Video_____
Live Video From St. Peter's Square
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"The clinical conditions of the Holy Father remain very serious," the statement said. "In the late morning a high fever developed. When addressed by members of his household he responds correctly."

Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls issued the written statement at about 7 p.m. local time (noon EST) and was not available for questions.

While there appeared no doubt that everyone involved considered the pope's death imminent, the latest statement was as oblique as all the others issued by the Vatican in recent hours and days.

Navarro-Valls's morning statement said the pope was slipping in and out of consciousness. There was no mention in the morning of a fever, which can result from unsuppressed infection, possibly from the pope's urinary tract infection. There was also no further mention of the pope's blood pressure, which was described as unstable on Friday.

"We cannot speak of a coma technically," Navarro-Valls said in the morning. "From this dawn, the conscious state has been seen to be compromised," he said.

As the statements were issued, thousands of Catholics gathered in churches across the globe to pray for John Paul, 84. Thousands more filled the square below the pontiff's apartments in the Vatican, preparing for another night of praying, watching and waiting.

All sports events in Italy this weekend were suspended in a sign of respect. Gianni Petrucci, president of Italy's Olympic Committee, said Saturday the decision applies to the country's top soccer league, a playoff deciding the Italian ice hockey title, basketball and volleyball league games and amateur sports. Auto racing was canceled at the Imola circuit, the Associated Press said.

The committee said it had asked all national federations to immediately suspend all scheduled events over the weekend "in view of the latest medical bulletins reporting . . . the imminence of the Holy Father's end," wire services said. "It was the only decision to be taken," Petrucci said.

In the United States, cable news networks provided nearly 24 hour coverage, featuring a procession of clergy of all faiths, numerous commentators praising the pope's life and a variety of Vatican-based journalists.

Washington's Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was televised live as he celebrated a Mass for the pope at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, in Northeast Washington, where the pontiff once visited.

"We pray that the Lord will either give him a miraculous gift of recovery or at least will ease his suffering so that he may go home to the Lord in peace," he said.

While there was little actual news most of the day, no one was predicting recovery. Indeed, the Vatican's official statements were uniformly bleak.

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