Pope Near Death as Millions Pray

UPDATED 04/02/2005 at 12:30 PM EST Originally published 04/01/2005 at 08:20 AM EST

Pope Near Death as Millions Pray
Pope John Paul II
Massimo Sambucetti/AP
Pope John Paul II continued to slip in and out of consciousness on Saturday, the Vatican said, as millions around the world prepared for his passing.

In the Vatican's first update in eight hours on the Pope's condition, it was said that the 84-year-old pontiff’s state is "very grave (with) high fever, and very serious."

The much-delayed announcement came at 7:30 p.m. Rome time. There was nothing further stated.

Earlier on Saturday, John Paul was said to be slipping from consciousness yet still able to speak, though he was barely audible, according to papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls.

Navarro-Valls said that the pontiff was "informed of the gravity of his situation" and decided to remain in his apartment overlooking St. Peter's Square. Navarro-Valls also said that the Holy Father, who has received the sacrament for the sick and dying, had expressed his desire to die in his own bed.

Thousands have gathered in the Vatican to stand vigil, while around the world – and among many faiths – prayers are being said for the Pope, who is being hailed as "a man of peace."

In his Polish hometown of Wadowice, the citizenry left school and work to pray in the town's main house of worship – St. Mary's Church, where the pope (born Karol Wojtyla) was baptized – once word got out that the health of the nation's best-known son had taken a dramatic turn for the worse.

As one worshiper, Danuta Chowaniec, 17, told the Associated Press: "The only way we can help him is by prayer."

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