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Pope Showing Signs Of Losing Consciousness

2 April 2005 -- The Vatican has said Pope John Paul II's condition remains "unchanged," but that the pontiff is showing the first signs of losing consciousness.

Spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said in an 11:30 a.m. press conference the pope's condition is extremely grave. He said John Paul appears to be losing consciousness, although he still opens his eyes when spoken to.

The 84-year-old pope's health has rapidly deteriorated. He has suffered organ failure, and his breathing is reported to be shallow and labored.

Italian television quoted a top Vatican cardinal who visited the pope today as saying he "knows he is dying" and said his "last goodbye."

Crowds have maintained a vigil outside the Vatican on St. Peter's Square. Hundreds of thousands of Catholic faithful around the world have been holding prayer in honor of the ailing pontiff.

Across the Pope's native Poland, the overwhelmingly Catholic population held vigils in packed churches. Several thousand people gathered yesterday evening in Krakow, where John Paul served as bishop.

Poles stood before the window of the bishop's residence, lighting candles, praying, and singing.

Former Polish President Lech Walesa told Reuters yesterday the pope had played a valuable role in the overthrow of Poland's communist regime.

"I am a believer, a man of religion, and looking at him from this point of view, I see him as a modern Peter, the Saint Peter of our times. From a different perspective, he influenced other areas of life. Had it not been for him, there would still be communism -- communism would have lasted much longer and our problems would have as well. He created hope, he woke up the people, the people took up the struggle, and we have a free world now," Walesa said.

The pope's condition deteriorated on Thursday after he developed a urinary tract infection that later brought on septic shock and a cardio-circulatory collapse.

The pope was twice rushed to hospital in February after being struck by respiratory crises made worse by Parkinson's disease and later underwent throat surgery to ease his breathing.