Millions of Catholics Worldwide Mourn After Death of Pope

Roman Catholics around the world plunged into mourning Saturday after the death of Pope John Paul II. The 84-year-old pontiff died Saturday night at his apartment in the Vatican after suffering heart failure brought on by two months of acute breathing problems and other infections.

"The Holy Father died this evening at 9:37 p.m. (2:37 p.m. EST) in his private apartment,” said papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls, in a statement released by the Vatican. “The Holy Father's final hours were marked by the uninterrupted prayer of all those who were assisting him in his pious death, and by the choral participation in prayer of the thousands of faithful who, for many hours, had been gathered in St. Peter's Square."

News of the pontiff's death touched not only Catholics from his native Poland to the Americas, from Africa to Asia, but untold numbers of other admirers of one of the most popular and recognizable popes in history.

During his pontificate—the third longest in 2,000 years—John Paul II was the most widely traveled pope in history, making visits to 129 countries. He was also the first to visit the White House, a synagogue and communist Cuba.

Only two of his 263 predecessors served longer than he did—St. Peter, the first pope, and Pius IX in the 19th century.

A profoundly conservative leader, John Paul II reaffirmed many of the church's stances on issues such as abortion, homosexuality and the role of women in the church.

Despite criticism, he remained unwavering on those and other stances, including his preference for centralized authority within the church, which some saw as hindering a move toward a more democratic church.

From all over Poland, the faithful and the sorrowful gathered Saturday to pray for John Paul II in his hometown church.

According to Knight Ridder, regular parishioners and visiting pilgrims had been crowding day and night into the basilica, hoping to ease the pope's suffering with their prayers.

Later in the evening, the bells in the steeple of the Basilica of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary sounded, signaling the death of the beloved pontiff.

In St. Peter's Square, tens of thousands of people stood in tearful silence after the Pope’s death was announced.

Pilgrims cried, held rosaries and candles, and prayed after the announcement of the pontiff's death. The bells of the churches of Rome tolled after the announcement.

A service of hymns, Bible readings and prayers followed. Someone in the crowd waved a large Polish flag.

In the United States, President George W. Bush also paid tribute to the pope in a public address saying, "the world has lost a champion of human freedom." He added, "A good and faithful servant of God has been called home."

According to Vatican officials, a Mass for the pope will be held in the square Sunday morning.