Pope 'showing first signs of losing consciousness'

Pope John Paul II’s condition remains unchanged and “very grave”, and he is showing the first signs of losing consciousness, the Vatican said today.

Pope John Paul II’s condition remains unchanged and “very grave”, and he is showing the first signs of losing consciousness, the Vatican said today.

The 84-year-old Pope’s health has rapidly deteriorated, with his heart and kidneys failing after he suffered a urinary tract infection.

But John Paul is not technically in a coma and opens his eyes when spoken to, papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls told reporters.

The spokesman said: "Mass was celebrated at 7.30 this morning in the presence of the ppe,'' although the pontiff did not concelebrate the rite.

“Sometimes it seems as if he were resting with his eyes closed, but when you speak to him, he opens his eyes,” Navarro-Valls said.

When Navarro-Valls went to the papal apartment around 9.30am local time this morning, the Pope's two secretaries, three nuns from the papal household and his personal physician were with John Paul.

The Vatican said it would issue another update at about around 5.30pm.

He said aides had told the Pope that thousands of young people were in St Peter’s Square on Friday evening.

“In fact, he seemed to be referring to them when, in his words, and repeated several times, he seemed to have said the following sentence: ‘I have looked for you. Now you have come to me. And I thank you’,” the spokesman said.

John Paul’s overall condition, which has rapidly deteriorated since Thursday, remained unchanged and very serious, the Vatican said.

“The general cardio-respiratory and metabolic conditions are substantially unvaried and therefore very grave. Since dawn this morning there have been the first signs that consciousness is being affected,” Navarro-Valls said.

One of the Pope’s closest aides, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was quoted this morning as saying that when he saw the pontiff on Friday morning, John Paul was “aware that he is passing to the Lord”.

The Pope “gave me the final farewell,” the news agency of the Italian bishops conference quoted the German cardinal as saying on Friday night.

Tourists and pilgrims streamed anew into St Peter’s Square this morning, and around the world, priests readied Roman Catholics for the Pope’s passing. Many expressed hope that his final hours would be peaceful.

A workman in the square, declining to give his name, said crews were taking down the canopy on the steps of St Peter’s Basilica, which had covered an altar during Easter Sunday Mass, because they had orders to clear the space for when the Pope’s coffin eventually is carried into the square.

Police in a motorised cart moved around the square, telling some faithful who were kneeling on the cobblestones to get up. Police said they were given orders that no-one be allowed to sit or pray on the pavement in the square.

As word of his deteriorating condition spread across the globe, special Masses celebrated the Pope for transforming the Roman Catholic Church during his 26-year papacy and for his example in fearlessly confronting death.

In Wadowice, Poland, where the Pope was born, people left school and work early and headed to church to pray for their native son.

Hospitalised twice last month after breathing crises, and fitted with a breathing tube and a feeding tube, John Paul has become a picture of suffering.

His papacy has been marked by its call to value the aged and to respect the sick, subjects the Pope has turned to as he battles Parkinson’s disease and crippling knee and hip ailments. The Pope also survived a 1981 assassination attempt, when a Turkish gunman shot him in the abdomen.

John Paul’s health declined sharply on Thursday when he developed a high fever brought on by the infection. The Pope suffered septic shock and heart problems during treatment for the infection, the Vatican said.

Septic shock involves both bacteria in the blood and a consequent over-relaxing of the blood vessels. The vessels, which are normally narrow and taut, get floppy in reaction to the bacteria and can’t sustain any pressure. That loss of blood pressure is catastrophic, making the heart work hard to compensate for the collapse.

Dr Gianni Angelini, a professor of cardiac surgery at Bristol University in England, said the chance of an elderly person in John Paul’s condition surviving septic shock for more than 48 hours was no more than 20%, “but that would be in an intensive care unit with very aggressive treatment”.

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