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Pope in critical condition after heart failure

Vatican, Apr. 01 ( - Pope John Paul II (bio - news) suffered heart failure on Thursday while under treatment for a urinary infection which caused a high fever. On April 1 his condition had been stabilized, and papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said that the Holy Father was "lucid, fully conscious, and extraordinarily serene," but conceded that his condition is "very grave."

Navarro-Valls was highly emotional, his eyes brimming with tears, as he briefed reporters on the Pope's condition at midday on Friday. He said that the Pope's overall condition had improved after a Thursday-night crisis, but his blood pressure remained "unstable" and his prognosis was poor. However, he flatly denied reports that the Pontiff had lapsed into a coma.

The Pope met with several top Vatican aides-- including the Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano (bio - news), and the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (bio - news)-- on Friday morning. Aides reported that the Pontiff had asked them to read to him from the Stations of the Cross, which he followed attentively. The Pope also prayed the Liturgy of the Hours with his aides, and concelebrated Mass.

Navarro-Valls said that the Pope had expressed his preference to remain at the Vatican, receiving care from a medical team in his own apartment rather than returning to the Gemelli Hospital.

Pope John Paul received the Anointing of the Sick on Thursday, and roads to the Vatican were closed, as the faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square to pray for the Holy Father. Doctors observe that heart failure-- as distinct from a heart attack-- is usually a system of an irreparable physical breakdown.

Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the Pope's vicar for the Rome diocese-- and the prelate who would probably have the responsibility of making the formal public announcement of the Pope's death-- issued a statement asking the faithful to pray more intensively for John Paul II as he faces what appears to be his final struggle.

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