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Vatican: Pope Is Losing Consciousness


The Vatican says Pope John Paul is drifting in and out of consciousness today, but little has changed in his overall condition over the past 24 hours, since the pontiff's condition was described as very grave.

During a news briefing shortly before noon in Rome, Papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls told reporters that the 84-year-old pope began to slip into what he called "a compromised state of consciousness" at dawn today. But he added that "this absolutely does not mean" that John Paul is in a coma.

Mr. Navarro-Valls, a physician himself, says the pope opens his eyes when spoken to, but also appears to be resting frequently, with eyes closed.

The pope's long-time personal secretary, Polish Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, celebrated Mass today "in the presence" of the pontiff -- an indication that John Paul was unable to join in the prayers as he did on Friday, when the spokesman said the pope concelebrated Mass with Archbishop Dziwisz and other clergy.

Millions of Catholics around the world have joined in a chorus of prayers for the pope during the final hours of his life.

Comments by a number of senior church figures, including cardinals who will gather eventually to elect the pope's successor, make it clear the Polish-born pontiff is close to death.

Catholics praying for the pope have been keeping an around-the-clock vigil in St. Peter's Square, the vast plaza outside the pope's apartment in Vatican City. Their number swelled to tens of thousands this Saturday morning.

Information for this report is provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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