PARIS, April 1 -- Anxious Catholics packed churches around the world Friday for special Masses, lit candles, held vigils and prayed for Pope John Paul II as he lay near death in his Vatican City apartment.
The Catholic faithful were joined by many people from other religions who recalled John Paul as a man of peace and values whose message often transcended his denomination.
Catholics hold candles aloft during vigil for Pope John Paul II in the Queen of Peace church in Brasilia. The church was built in October 1991, after a papal visit to Brazil.
(Eraldo Peres -- AP)
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 From St. Peter's Square
_____More From The Post_____
Pope Edges Near Death As Faithful Pray and Wait (The Washington Post, Apr 2, 2005)
After Resolute Leadership, an Uncertain Path (The Washington Post, Apr 2, 2005)
A Vigil Of Hope For Beloved Compatriot (The Washington Post, Apr 2, 2005)
Under Windows, Pilgrims, Tourists Mill About and Pray (The Washington Post, Apr 2, 2005)
Worshipers Pray for a Most Familiar Holy Figure (The Washington Post, Apr 2, 2005)
In the Philippines, a predominantly Catholic country, he was remembered for his two visits to the country, in 1981 and again in 1995 when he drew an estimated 4 million people to Manila's Rizal Park.
Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, a practicing Catholic, said in a statement from Zamboanga City that "we really are grateful to the Lord that through all these many, many years, He gave us the wonderful leadership of the pope in our church."
Many of Australia's 5 million Catholics attended similar masses for the ailing pontiff.
In Africa, where the Catholic church is experiencing its fastest growth, Masses were packed from Nairobi in the east to Lagos in the west. Nigeria is home to Africa's largest Catholic population, numbering about 20 million, and a Nigerian cardinal, Francis Arinze, has been frequently mentioned as a possible successor to John Paul. The pope traveled extensively in Africa during his 26-year papacy.
Here in France, a historically Catholic country, church attendance has declined, as it has in many other European countries. But Friday, about 4,000 worshipers, young and old, French citizens and foreign tourists, packed into Notre Dame, the medieval cathedral in the center of Paris, for a special sundown Mass.
There, Monsignor Andre Vingt-Trois, the archbishop, recalled the pontiff's early life, first under Nazi dictatorship in occupied Poland and later under Communist authoritarian rule.
"It was extraordinarily moving inside," said Carol Bonnar, an American visitor from Boston who was drawn into the cathedral by the sound of the music and the ringing of the bells. She called herself a non-practicing Catholic, but said, "you could be any denomination."
Also attending the Mass was Jean Fassina, 66, a Jewish pianist. As a young music student in Poland in the 1960s, he became aware of the cleric who was born Karol Josef Wojtyla. "For me, the pope accompanied the changes in my own life," he said. "He's special -- his generosity, his spiritual values. . . . He was a man without borders, without religious borders, without philosophical borders. He was ecumenical, respected by all the world."
Underscoring that theme, Dalil Boubakeur, a well-known Muslim leader in France, praised John Paul as a "man of peace" and said Muslims were dedicating their Friday prayers to him. "For us Muslims, he is a man of God, a man who wanted to serve God by serving humanity." During his papacy, John Paul made an unprecedented apology for past sins of the church, including the crusades against Islam.
Across the Atlantic Ocean, thousands of people gathered with candles in the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo in a nighttime vigil for the pope. Colombian President Alvaro Uribe praised the pope's handling of his health setbacks. "I am feeling a peaceful sadness, because at all times the pope sets an example . . . an example of serenity, of consistency," Uribe said.
And in the Cuban capital, Havana, Victor Hugo Pares, a self-described communist, told the Associated Press that "I don't believe in God. But if there is a God, let him send us a pope as good as this one."
In London, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the archbishop of Westminster, praised the pope as "a moral voice, and in that sense I think the papacy and what it represents has an even more significant role in the world than it ever had before." He was quoted by several news agencies.
John Paul was remembered in Scotland, where he visited, for his efforts to build ties between the Catholic church and other Christian denominations. In Vienna, dozens of Catholic faithful lit candles for the pope at St. Stephen's Cathedral.