| Pope John Paul
Vatican City, April 1 (Reuters): Pope John Paul's health worsened further today when his breathing became shallow and his blood pressure deteriorated, said the Vatican, and one Italian news agency reported he had lost consciousness.
The Vatican denied Italian media reports that he had died. The first reports, picked up by the state broadcaster RAI, said his electrocardiogram had gone flat. The ADNkronos news agency said monitoring showed his brain activity had halted. But Sky Italia television later quoted Vatican sources saying both his brain and heart were still functioning.
The Pope had told aides he did not want to return to hospital, where he spent several weeks before Easter after breathing trouble.
'The fact he has not gone back (shows) he is serenely carrying the cross and ready to give up and to say 'It is finished',' said his former private secretary, Irish bishop John Magee.
Church officials tried to prepare the world and its 1.1 billion Roman Catholics for the end of one of the longest papal reigns in history after the Vatican said the long-ailing Pope had declined further hospital treatment.
'The general conditions and cardio-respiratory conditions of the Holy Father have further worsened,' said Vatican spokesperson Joaquin Navarro-Valls.
'A gradual worsening of arterial hypotension has been noted, and breathing has become shallow. The clinical picture indicates cardio-circulatory and renal insufficiency. The biological parameters are notably compromised.'
'There's no hope any more,' the ANSA news agency quoted an unidentified medical source as saying.
The 84-year-old Pope received the blessing for the dying after his health suddenly deteriorated overnight.
'The Holy Father ' with visible participation ' is joining in the continual prayers of those assisting him,' said Navarro-Valls.
Catholics flocked to churches to light candles and pray for the man who became Pope in 1978 and revitalised the papacy. Groups of faithful gathered in the Vatican's vast St Peter's Square, some gazing up at the papal apartments.
Cardinals were summoned to the Polish-born Pope's bedside to say their farewells in person.
Rome Cardinal Camillo Ruini told a mass at the city's San Giovanni church that the Pope 'already sees and touches the Lord. He is already united with our sole Saviour'.
Navarro-Valls earlier today fought back tears when he told reporters the Pontiff had celebrated Mass from his bed as dawn broke.
After weeks of worsening health, the Pope developed a high fever yesterday caused by a urinary infection.
Poles clung to the hope their beloved countryman would step back from the brink of death.
'I came to pray for the Pope,' said Maria Danecka, one of hundreds who crowded in and around the basilica in Wadowice, a southern city where Karol Wojtyla was born in 1920, many weeping.
Churches in the capital Warsaw and the southern city of Krakow where Wojtyla was archbishop filled with worshippers.
Recent images of a gaunt, pained John Paul, his body ravaged by Parkinson's disease and arthritis, contrast starkly to the sprightly Wojtyla who strode onto the world stage on October 16, 1978, and travelled the globe tirelessly to preach the Gospels.
He has been leading the world's largest church for 26 years ' longer than all but two earlier popes.
The Pope came close to death before when a Turkish gunman shot him during a general audience in St Peter's Square in 1981. He believes divine intervention saved him from death.
After a pope dies, cardinals from around the world are called to Rome to chose a successor at a conclave which starts in the Vatican's Sistine Chapel 15 to 20 days after the death. There is no favourite candidate to take over as head of the Church, and Wojtyla himself was seen as an outsider before he was elected.
Some churchmen believe the developing world should provide the next pope as that is where the religion is most vibrant.