Pope's fading health unites faithful in prayer


Published: Friday, April 1, 2005 at 11:09 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 1, 2005 at 11:09 a.m.

WADOWICE, Poland (AP) - From workers in Poland to monks in Norway and parishioners in the Philippines, Roman Catholics around the world prayed Friday for Pope John Paul II.

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Women pray during a special Mass for Pope John Paul II's health in a church in Warsaw, Poland, Friday April 1, 2005. Poles packed churches Friday to pray for the recovery of the Pope after the health of the nation's most famous son took a dramatic turn for the worse. The Vatican said the 84-year-old pontiff suffered heart failure during treatment for a urinary tract infection and was in "very serious" condition.

AP Photo/Alik Keplicz

In Wadowice, the southern Polish town where the young Karol Wojtyla grew up, people abandoned school and work to pray 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 was baptized. "In spite of these alarming statements from the Vatican, that he is really worse, I still hope he improves."

Krystian Zajac, 47, came to the church in tears from his work at a plumbing company.

"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."

Lech Walesa, the former leader of the Solidarity trade union movement that drew inspiration from the pope, said it was important to "pray so God leaves him with us for a while."

"I really hope that if the entire world prays hard enough, then God will listen," Walesa told The Associated Press by telephone from a conference in Prague, the Czech capital. "I still hope the pope will pull through."

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski canceled all his meetings Friday. "He is very worried and all other events have been put aside," said his spokeswoman, Teresa Grabczynska.

The Vatican said the 84-year-old pontiff suffered heart failure during treatment for a urinary tract infection and was "lucid" but in grave condition. Thousands of people packed St. Peter's Square, praying and gazing up at his third-floor window.

At a tiny cloister on the Lofoten Islands, off northwestern Norway, three Polish monks prayed for the pope.

"We pray for him as we do every day," said Dariusz Banasiak, superior of the Cistercian Monastery. "Our prayers are more intense today, with what we feel in our hearts."

The 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 the God in the way he is presented," said Wojtek Wisniewski, age 40 and unemployed, 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."

In London, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the archbishop of Westminster, reflected on John Paul's "extraordinary papacy."

"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," Murphy-O'Connor said.

Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, the leader of Russia's Roman Catholics, called on them to "offer your prayers, strengthened by good deeds and acts of charity" for the pope's life.

In the Philippines' capital, Manila, Linda Nicol had tears streaming down her face after she and her husband 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.

The Rev. 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."

In Cairo, Egypt, the Rev. Giuseppe Picotti, a member of an order of Catholic missionaries, said he and his fellow priests share the suffering of the pope, whom he described as a "man of high spirituality and humanity."

A special Mass to pray for John Paul was planned at St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, Austria, where dozens of worshippers lit candles.

"I think he should die as calmly as possible," said Doris Kubesch, 53, as she waited for the noon service to begin. "He did a lot for all of us. He did a very good job."

That sentiment was echoed by Pius Ncube, the archbishop of Bulawayo, in Zimbabwe.

"I am praying that he goes home gently," Ncube said. "At 84, he has lived a full life. It doesn't make sense to pray for his recovery."

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