Byline: By Mike Love
The Pope was clinging to life in deteriorating condition last night, with his breath shallow and his kidneys not functioning properly, the Vatican said.
``The general conditions and cardio-respiratory conditions of the Holy Father have further worsened,'' the Vatican said.
``The clinical picture indicates cardiocirculatory and renal insufficiency,'' it said.
``A gradual worsening of arterial hypertension has been noted and breathing has become shallow.
``The Holy Father - with visible participation - is joining in the continual prayers of those assisting him,'' said the communique issued by papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls.
Earlier, the Vatican said the 84-year-old pope was still lucid, fully conscious and ``extraordinarily serene''.
Navarro-Valls, breaking into tears at times, said in an earlier briefing that John Paul was ``informed of the gravity of his situation'' and decided to remain in his apartment overlooking St Peter's Square, where thousands of people stood vigil.
They stared up at the window from where the first Polish pope has addressed millions of faithful during an extraordinary 26-year papacy, the third longest in Church history. He was last seen there two days ago, gaunt and unable to speak.
Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said that after John Paul's already fragile health declined sharply Thursday evening, the pope participated in Mass from his bed and received seven top aides this morning.
``The Pope is still lucid, fully conscious and extraordinarily serene,'' Navarro-Valls said. But he said the pope remained in ``very grave'' condition with unstable blood pressure.
John Paul asked aides to read him the biblical passage describing the final stage of the Way of the Cross, the path that Christ took to his crucifixion, Navarro-Valls said. In that stage, according to the Bible, Christ's body was taken down from the cross, wrapped in a linen shroud and placed in his tomb.
Navarro-Valls said the pope followed attentively and made the sign of the cross.
``This is surely an image I have never seen in these 26 years,'' the usually unflappable Navarro-Valls said. …