The Final Days of Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II emerged from a week-long Lenten retreat on 20 February 2005. He was still suffering the effects of his bout with the flu, for which he had been hospitalized February 1-10 at the Gemelli Polyclinic. Nonetheless, his Angelus message showed that he remained intent on completing his Petrine mission in “service to the unity of the Church.”

The Pope resumed his usual audiences with visiting bishops, but his convalescent state and bad weather prompted him to appear via television to pilgrims, gathered for his General Audience on February 23. He was unable to attend a consistory for the announcement of upcoming canonizations due to a difficulty breathing, and the next day, February 24, he returned to the hospital to undergo a tracheotomy. Three days after the operation, though unable to speak, he made a surprise appearance at his hospital window for the Sunday Angelus, to silently bless well-wishers gathered outside. As Cardinal Ratzinger observed, “the example of a suffering Pope is very important … it is another way of preaching” that suffering can be fruitful “when we share it with the Lord.”

From his hospital room, the Holy Father continued his work, scheduling daily meetings with his aides, between therapy sessions for breathing and speaking. On March 6, he made a second silent appearance at his hospital window, to bless the crowds, who called out, “Long live the Pope.” On March 9, at the time appointed for his Wednesday General Audience, He made a third appearance, still vested, after celebrating. On March 13, the day he left the hospital, the Pope addressed a brief vocal greeting, the first since his operation, to cheering crowds, and then was conveyed back to the Vatican. There he continued to work, appointing bishops and receiving visitors, but he did not appear at the Wednesday General Audience on March 16.

For the first time in his 26 year pontificate, John Paul II was unable to preside at the Palm Sunday Mass on March 20, though he did make a brief appearance at his window, where he blessed the people with an olive branch. There was no General Audience on Wednesday March 23, but he make a silent appearance at his window, looking frail. He had not spoken in public since the day he left the hospital.

Unable to attend the Good Friday Way of the Cross at the Colosseum, the Pope appeared to the faithful via television, in which he was shown sitting alone in his chapel, watching the ceremony on a television screen.

On March 27, Easter Sunday, after trying repeatedly to vocalize his traditional Easter blessing, urbi et orbi, the Holy Father gave his blessing in silence. He failed to appear at his window on Easter Monday. The next day, it was speculated that the Holy Father might return to the hospital due to a difficulty in swallowing. On Wednesday, March 30, Vatican Press Director Joaquín Navarro-Valls announced that the Pope had received a nasal-gastric feeding tube to increase his caloric intake, and that all public audiences remained suspended. On March 31, word came that the Holy Father was suffering from a high fever, due to a urinary tract infection, and that his blood pressure had fallen. That afternoon his health worsened suddenly when, because of the infection, septic shock set in with cardio-circulatory collapse and renal insufficiency. He was given the last rites of the Church.

Aware of the gravity of his condition, the Holy Father preferred not to be taken to the hospital. Attending him were his personal doctor Renato Buzzonetti, as well as two intensive care specialists, a cardiologist and an ear, nose and throat specialist as well as two nurses. On Friday, April 1, the Pope’s condition continued to worsen, but he was described as lucid, fully conscious, and serene. He concelebrated Mass from his bed, had the 14 stations of the Way of the Cross read to him, and some texts from Holy Scripture, and he spoke with members of the Curia. By evening his blood pressure had dropped dramatically, and he lapsed into unconsciousness. The faithful, standing vigil in St. Peter’s Square, prayed the Rosary for him.

On Saturday, April 2, as the Holy Father’s condition continued to decline, the hours were filled with uninterrupted prayer by those assisting him, and by the thousands filling St. Peter’s Square.

At 8 pm, the Mass for Divine Mercy Sunday was celebrated in his room, by Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, with Cardinal Marian Jaworski, Archbishop Stanislaw Rylko and Monsignor Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki, as concelebrants. In the course of the Mass Holy Communion was given to him as Viaticum and, once again, the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. John Paul II left this world shortly after, at 9:37 pm Rome time. Present at the moment of his death were: his two personal secretaries, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz and Monsignor Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki, Cardinal Marian Jaworski, Archbishop Stanislaw Rylko, Father Tadeusz Styczen, three Handmaidens of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, nuns who assist in the Holy Father's apartment, guided by the Superior Sister Tobiana Sobódka, and the Pope's personal physician Dr. Renato Buzzonetti, with the two doctors on call, Dr. Alessandro Barelli and Dr. Ciro D'Allo, as well as the two nurses on call.

His last words, in fitting culmination of a life of prayer, were “Amen, Amen.”


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