As Pope John Paul II clung to life yesterday, Christians and non-Christians alike in Washington and across the nation prepared for his passing, marking the day with tears, candles and solemn prayers.
Catholics flocked to midday services. Many said they now had accepted his death and had begun praying that he would be free of pain in his last hours.
Sophia Melakou prays for the pope during a Mass that drew about 500 worshipers to Washington's Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle.
(Photos Lucian Perkins -- The Washington Post)
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.
Church Officials announce the death to the crowd gathered at the Vatican.
President Bush reacts to the death of Pope John Paul II.
Live From St. Peter's Square.
The Post's Robin Wright shares her experiences covering the pope.
_____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)
Catholics Crowd into Churches to Pay Respect (The Washington Post, Apr 2, 2005)
Under Windows, Pilgrims, Tourists Mill About and Pray (The Washington Post, Apr 2, 2005)
"May the Lord who loves him so much give him strength at this moment in his life," Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, archbishop of Washington, prayed during a somber noon Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Northwest Washington. "Restore him to health or free him from suffering and bring him home."
About 500 attended the service, which was part of the Easter liturgical season, and the sanctuary was adorned with white-trumpeted lilies and other bright flowers. In his homily, McCarrick drew a parallel between Jesus's suffering to save humanity and John Paul's suffering as a means of providing a model of living even in the shadow of death.
At the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Northeast Washington, a chalice used by John Paul when he first visited the United States as pope was on display and held the Communion wine served to parishioners.
Afterward, a throng of people walked to the nearby Pope John Paul II Cultural Center, which had displays of such personal items as his red leather slip-on shoes and photos of him as a young boy in Poland when he was known as Karol Jozef Wojtyla. Later, a large group of Jewish visitors paid respects by visiting the center and learned that the pope as a boy had once played goalie on a Jewish soccer team.
The crowds at the center were diverse, a testament to the respect that people of all faiths have for John Paul, said Monsignor William A. Kerr, the center's executive director. The center also began work yesterday evening on a memorial exhibit to commemorate his death.
"I've never sensed since I've been here such a somber atmosphere," Kerr said. "You think about one thing when you come through here: The pope is dying."
Some began weeping openly as they recounted when they saw him in Rome or caught him during his relentless travels across the globe.
"He's been pope for so long that you really got to know him. He was like a part of your family," said a tearful Helen Zamlowski, 77, of North Haven, Conn., who traveled to Washington yesterday specifically to visit the cultural center.
At yesterday evening's Mass at St. Augustine's Catholic Church in Northwest Washington, the Rev. Patrick Smith preached a homily on how the pope had reached out to African Americans when he visited New Orleans in 1987.
"He spoke about the reality of racism," Smith recalled. "He also said: 'Share your culture with the church. The church needs you, and you need the church.' "
Conflicting news reports about the pope's death made the day more difficult for some Catholics.
At St. Mary Cathedral in downtown Austin, the daily midday Mass was interrupted by a grave announcement from the altar.