Pope John Paul II died today at age 84, Vatican officials said. One of the most influential leaders of the 20th and early 21st centuries, he worked tirelessly to build a moral foundation in the modern world, while playing a crucial role in overthrowing communism and fostering peace.
Papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls announced the pope's death in a statement that was distributed to journalists via e-mail: "The Holy Father died this evening at 9:37 p.m. (2:37 p.m. ET) in his private apartment. All the procedures outlined in the apostolic Constitution 'Universi Dominici Gregis' that was written by John Paul II on Feb. 22, 1996, have been put in motion."
Cardinal Giovanni Battista announced the pontiff's death tens of thousands of people who had gathered in St. Peter's Square in a vigil for the pope.
"Dearest brothers and sisters, at 21:37, our beloved Father John Paul II has returned to the house of his Father. Let's pray for him," Battista said.
Onlookers fell silent once the pope's death was announced. Then in an Italian traditional salute, some clapped in tribute to the pope. Only the slow tolling of one of the great bells of St. Peter's Basilica could be heard. On Sunday, in honor of Pope John Paul II's memory, the mass to celebrate the Feast of the Divine Mercy will be celebrated in St. Peter's Square.
The Vatican said the pope's body is expected to be brought to St. Peter's Basilica to lie in state no earlier than Monday afternoon. His body will be laid to rest in the crypt underneath St. Peter's Basilica.
The College of Cardinals will meet Monday in advance of the process to decide John Paul's successor. After the official nine-day mourning period ends, the cardinals will hold a secret vote in the Sistine Chapel to choose a successor. According to Vatican tradition, the process will begin no later than 20 days following the pope's death.
The crowds began gathering by the thousands on Friday when the Vatican announced the pope was in "very grave" condition.Pope John Paul II had suffered cardio-circular failure and septic shock late Thursday while being treated for a urinary infection, the Vatican said. By Friday afternoon, his breathing had become shallow and his kidneys were no longer functioning properly, it said.
The pope, who suffered from Parkinson's disease, had become increasingly frail in recent years, and over the last several weeks his health took a dramatic turn for the worse. He underwent a tracheotomy on Feb. 24 to help him breathe more easily after being hospitalized for the second time in a month with flu-like symptoms and respiratory trouble.
His illness forced him to skip most of the Holy Week observations, for the first time in his nearly 27-year papacy. John Paul appeared at his window on Easter Sunday, March 27, to bless the faithful thronging St. Peter's Square, but he was unable to speak.
He began receiving nutrition through a nasal feeding tube on Wednesday to boost his caloric intake. The next day the Vatican confirmed he had a high fever caused by a urinary tract infection. The pope was given the sacrament known as known as Anointing of the Sick, which is reserved for the very ill or dying. Over the next hours, he suffered septic shock and his condition continued to deteriorate.
Official reaction to the pope's death came quickly.