Roman Catholics across the world, from blue-collar workers in Poland to monks in the Norwegian Arctic and parishioners in the Philippines, prayed for the Pope today amid fading hopes that he would recover.
In Wadowice, the southern Polish town where the Pope grew up, people abandoned school and work to pray in the town’s church after the health of the nation’s best-known son took a dramatic turn for the worse.
“The only way we can help him is by prayer,” said 17-year-old Danuta Chowaniec, one of the worshippers at St. Mary’s Church, where the Pope – Karol Wojtyla – was baptised. “In spite of these alarming statements from the Vatican, that he is really worse, I still hope he improves.”
Krystian Zajac, 47, went to the church in tears.
“This situation is so difficult. I took time off from work to come and pray,” he said. “This is the will of God. We just have to pray. Everything is in the hands of God.”
At a tiny cloister on the Lofoten Islands, off north-western Norway and about 110 miles north of the Arctic Circle, three Polish monks were prayed for the Pope.
“We pray for him as we do every day,” said Dariusz Banasiak, superior of the Cister Monastery near Stamsund on the islands. “Our prayers are more intense today, with what we feel in our hearts. We pray that the will of God is carried out.”
The strong emotional bond between the Pope and his compatriots also was in evidence in Warsaw, where worshippers streamed in and out of churches.
“I never cried before. I don’t go to church, I don’t believe in priests or in God in the way he is presented,” said Wojtek Wisniewski, an unemployed 40-year-old, as he left Warsaw’s All Saint’s Church. “But I believe in the Pope. I love him. He is a saint. He understands people like me and speaks to us. There will never be another person like him.”
Sympathy crossed religious boundaries for John Paul, who has worked for better relations with both Jews and Muslims. Muslims in France were praying for the pontiff, leading French Muslim Dalil Boubakeur said, describing him as a ”man of peace”.
“For us Muslims, he is a man of God, a man who wanted to serve God by serving humanity,” said Boubakeur, who is president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith.
In London, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the archbishop of Westminster, reflected on the “extraordinary papacy” of John Paul.
“In some way he’s moved the role of … his ministry very much, not just for Roman Catholics, not even for fellow Christians … but other faiths, indeed the whole world,” Murphy-O’Connor told reporters. “He’s been 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.”
In the Philippines’ capital, Manila, Linda Nicol had tears streaming down her face after she and her husband, Romy, said prayers.
“Hopefully he can be given a longer life. He is really well-loved by the people,” Nicol said.
In Los Angeles, parishioners at a Polish parish that the Pope visited in 1976 - two years before he was elected Pope – prayed for a quick recovery and reminisced about his appearance as an energetic cardinal.
Father Bogdan Molenda, pastor of Our Lady of the Bright Mount, recalled being blessed by the pope in 1983 while he was a deacon at the Polish archdiocese Poznan.
“I feel the same as if my own father was sick,” Molenda said as he prepared for a Mass. “We are all praying, but our trust is in God’s hands.”
The leader of Russia’s Roman Catholics called Friday for all Catholics in the country to pray for the pope.
Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz told the faithful gathered in Moscow’s Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception that the 84-year-old pontiff’s “health dramatically worsened”.
At a mass held to pray for John Paul, he called on Catholics in Russia to “offer your prayers, strengthened by good deeds and acts of charity” for the Pope’s life.
The Russian Orthodox leadership has accused Catholics of poaching converts in Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union.
The dispute has blocked a papal visit to Russia, a long-held wish of the Polish-born pontiff.
Even communist China, long at odds with the Vatican, expressed concern for John Paul but a foreign ministry spokesman declined to say whether Catholics would be allowed to hold prayer services for him.
China broke ties with the Vatican in 1951 and demands that Catholics worship only in churches approved by the state-controlled church group that does not recognise the Pope’s authority.