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Pope dies 5:37 Sunday morning

Pope John Paul II passed away in his private apartment early Sunday Australian time (9:37 pm Saturday in Rome).

The Vatican statement said that he died after suffering heart failure two days ago, brought on by two months of acute breathing problems and other infections.

"All the procedures forseen by the Apostolic Constitution 'Universi Dominici gregis' promulgated by John Paul II on 22 February 1996 have been set in motion," said Vatican spokesman Dr Joaquin Navarro-Valls.

Bells tolled and many people wept openly.

"Our Holy Father John Paul has returned to the house of the Father," Archbishop Leonardo Sandri told the crowds.

Sydney's Archbishop George Pell, who interrupted a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to return to Rome, has written on the Sydney Morning Herald website that his 1979 judgment of Karol Wojtyla as "not simply a good Pope, but a great Pope" was proved right over the next 26 years.

"Pope John Paul II was one of the greatest popes in the Church's 2000-year history," he said. "Through the intellectual quality of his teachings, his unprecedented ability with the secular media and the force of his personality, the Pope proved to be a formidable spokesman for human rights, God and Christian humanism, and a relentless opponent of the culture of death. He widened the dialogue and debate."

As the Holy Father was dying, Cardinal Pell issued a statement through Sydney's Catholic Communications Office yesterday: "At this moment all Catholics, all Christians, all religious people, in fact all people of goodwill will be praying for the Pope in his last moments."

In Pell's absence, Sydney auxiliary Bishop Julian Porteous is presiding over the Archdiocesan response.

In Brisbane, Archbishop John Bathersby said yesterday that young Catholics loved the Pope and regarded him as a popstar.

"He has an amazing attraction for young people. They constantly chant when he goes to World Youth Days 'J.P. Two, we love you' and they'll chant that for hours on end," said Archbishop Bathersby.

"He has been an extraordinary leader. He has kept an enormous energy everywhere," said Archbishop Bathersby.

Yesterday, Prime Minister John Howard recalled the Pope as a "freedom fighter".

"He will be remembered as a person who helped lead the fight for freedom, which led to the fall of the Berlin Wall . . . and for helping to bring freedom to . . . Poland," he said.

Sydney's Sun-Herald reports today that Australia's religious and political leaders will gather at St Mary's Cathedral to farewell Pope John II in a Requiem Mass on the evening before his funeral is held in Rome.

The Prime Minister John Howard, Governor-General Major General Michael Jeffery, NSW Premier Bob Carr, political leaders and parliamentarians from across Australia are expected to attend the Mass, which will be conducted by Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney Julian Porteous.

Senior clergy, religious orders, parishioners and schoolchildren are expected to converge on St Mary's Cathedral for the Requiem Mass.

Cathedral dean Fr Neil Brown last night led the faithful in prayers, and a six-hour prayer vigil will be held today. Fr Brown said there was no other world leader as widely recognised and well respected as Pope John Paul II.

"He's been a very strong Pope who has captured the hearts and minds of Catholics," Fr Brown said. "He's been a person who has stood for many important things in the world, human justice and the value of human life, and people respect him for that."

Melbourne's Polish community held mass at St Ignatius Church in Richmond, setting up a shrine with a photo of the Pontiff feeding a kangaroo at Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary in 1973.

At this early stage (8:00 am Sunday), other Australian leaders are preparing to pay tribute to the Pope. CathNews will present a complete coverage in its usual service on Monday.

Death of Pope Paul II (Sydney Morning Herald 3/4/05)
Answers to the meaning of life form centre of his work (Sydney Morning Herald 3/4/05)
PM lauds 'a fighter' (Sunday Herald-Sun 3/4/05)
Leaders to attend Requiem Mass at St Mary's (The Sun-Herald 3/4/04)
Pope 'regarded as a pop star' (The Courier-Mail 2/4/05)

3 Apr 2005