New York Times
September 19, 2005
ROME, Sept. 18 - The Vatican has published a meticulous account of Pope John Paul II's final days, vividly describing his last hours and providing an official chronology of his death.
According to the report, which runs more than 200 pages, John Paul's final words were, "Let me go to the house of the Father," which he uttered about six hours before dying in his apartment on April 2.
The report is being released as a supplement to the Vatican's official journal, the Acta Apostolicae Sedis. Excerpts were published in the Sunday issue of Avvenire, a Roman Catholic newspaper.
The Vatican did not provide a similar report for John Paul's predecessor, Pope John Paul I, who died in 1978, just over a month into his papacy. As a result, conspiracy theories abounded about his death.
George Weigel, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington and a papal biographer, said the Vatican's report on John Paul II should be construed as an effort "to clarify the sequence of events."
"It is important to have that on the record before the myth makers take over," he said in a telephone interview.
Pope John Paul II suffered from Parkinson's disease, and his health had been in decline for nearly a decade.
The official account of his final months begins on Jan. 31 of this year, when the Vatican announced that the pope's audiences were being suspended because he had flu symptoms, and he was taken to the hospital. He returned to the Vatican on Feb. 10 but re-entered the hospital two weeks later, when he underwent a tracheotomy.
In the following weeks, at least publicly, John Paul seemed to be recovering. He returned home from the hospital on March 13. However, the report said, he quickly began to grow weaker. Several days later, he missed his Palm Sunday Mass.
On Easter Sunday, March 27, he appeared at his apartment window to bless the crowd, but his condition was visibly worse. "The pope tried to read the words of the apostolic blessing, without success, and, in silence, with his right hand, blessed the city and the world," according to the report.
Four days later, John Paul suffered septic shock, caused by a urinary tract infection and the collapse of his cardio-circulatory system. His temperature rose to 103 degrees and Mass was said at the foot of his bed, the report said.
A Mass was offered in his room on the morning of his death, April 2, At 3:30 that afternoon, "with a very weak voice and mumbled words, in the Polish language, the holy father asked 'let me go to the house of the Father.' " Just before 7:00 p.m. he slipped into a coma, and "according to a Polish tradition, a small lighted candle illuminated the gloom of the room, where the pope was expiring," the report said.
Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz said a final Mass, and at 9:37 p.m., the 84-year-old pope died while a crowd of thousands prayed for him outside in St. Peter's Square. John Paul's doctor ran an electrocardiogram for 20 minutes to verify his death, the report said.