After 26-year reign, pontiff dies at 84
Roman Catholics all over the world gather to mourn
CNN's Christiane Amanpour on mourners at St. Peter's.
CNN's Chris Burns on Poles' devotion to Karol Wojtyla.
President Bush calls the pontiff a 'champion of human freedom.'
|DEATH OF JOHN PAUL II|
|Time of death: 9:37 p.m. in Rome; 2:37 p.m. Eastern; 19:37 GMT, April 2, 2005
Age at time of death: 84 years
Death announcement: Archbishop Leonardo Sandri
Vatican protocol: "All the procedures that were foreseen in the apostolistic consitution (universi dominici gregis) that were put forth by John Paul II on the 22 February 1996 have been launched." -- Sandri
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VATICAN CITY (CNN) -- Pope John Paul II was remembered Saturday as a "champion of human freedom," a "tireless advocate of peace" and a man with a "wonderful sense of humor" who was easy to talk to.
The charismatic pontiff, who led the world's 1 billion Catholics for 26 years, died at 9:37 p.m. Saturday (2:37 p.m. ET) in his private apartment, the Vatican said. He was 84.
"The Holy Father's final hours were marked by the uninterrupted prayer of all those who were assisting him in his pious death and by the choral participation in prayer of the thousands of faithful who for many hours had been gathered in Saint Peter's Square," a Vatican statement said.
Archbishop Stanislow Dziwisz presided over a Mass for the pontiff in his final hours.
"During the course of the Mass that the viaticum (communion for the dying) was administered to the Holy Father and, once again, the sacrament of anointing the sick," the statement said.
Archbishop Leonardo Sandri asked for a few moments of silence as he announced the death to the thousands of faithful who had congregated in St. Peter's Square. People in the crowd bowed their heads to pray, some of them in tears.
Then they burst into applause.
"Let perpetual light shine on him, and let him repose in peace," Sandri said.
A Mass in the pope's honor will be celebrated at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, he said.
The pope was known for his energy, intellectualism and activism on the global stage, but he was slowed in recent years by Parkinson's disease and crippling arthritis.
His health had deteriorated severely during the past few weeks. By Saturday, John Paul was slipping in and out of consciousness after his heart and kidneys started to fail in the wake of a urinary tract infection. (Full story)
Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said that despite his precarious health, the pope had decided to remain in his residence at the Vatican, rather than returning to Gemelli hospital in Rome, where he had been hospitalized twice since February.
He was administered the sacrament of anointing the sick, formerly known as last rites or extreme unction, Thursday night.
Navarro-Valls said the papal transition process is under way, as part of the procedures the pontiff enacted in 1996. (Rituals ahead)
Pilgrims, tourists and Italians filled St. Peter's Square on Saturday, hours after tens of thousands of people packed the vast space in a nighttime vigil.
Thousands of people gathered in Krakow, Poland -- where John Paul served as archbishop before becoming pope -- at the archbishop's residence. People in the crowd prayed for their fellow Pole.
In the United States, President Bush said his country loved the pontiff.
"The Catholic Church has lost its shepherd," Bush said at the White House, with his wife, Laura, standing alongside him. "The world has lost a champion of human freedom, and a good and faithful servant of God has been called home.
"We will always remember the humble, wise and fearless priest who became one of history's great moral leaders."
Bush ordered the U.S. flags at all federal buildings and facilities to be flown at half-staff until sunset on the day of the pope's interment.
Later, the Bushes attended a Mass at St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he felt privileged to have met the pope.
"Quite apart from his role as a spiritual guide to more than a billion men, women and children, he was a tireless advocate of peace, a true pioneer in interfaith dialogue and a strong force for critical self-evaluation by the Church itself," Annan said.
Lech Walesa, who led Poland's Solidarity movement to power after a decade of struggle, said the Polish-born John Paul inspired the drive to end communism in Eastern Europe.
"[Without him] there would be no end of communism or at least [it would have happened] much later, and the end would have been bloody," Walesa said. (Full story)
Bishop Joseph Galante, of the diocese of Camden, New Jersey, also had fond memories of the man.
"The Holy Father had a wonderful sense of humor. He was very easy to talk to."
John Paul was born Karol Jozef Wojtyla on May 18, 1920, in Wadowice, Poland.
After his ordination as a priest in November 1946, he rose steadily through the church hierarchy, becoming archbishop of Krakow in 1964.
He was elevated to cardinal in a secret consistory in 1968 and formally installed in a Vatican ceremony days later.
Despite his reputation as a formidable theologian and fearless defender of Catholic interests, his election as pope October 16, 1978 -- the first-ever Slavic pope and the first non-Italian to occupy the post in 455 years -- came as a surprise.
John Paul was the most widely traveled pope in history and was the first to visit the White House, a synagogue and communist Cuba.
Only two of his 263 predecessors served longer than he did -- St. Peter, the first pope, and Pope Pius IX in the 19th century.
Supporters and critics alike agree that his papacy had immense significance.
He drew enormous crowds in his public appearances and was known for his courage and integrity.
Although his outspoken views on human rights gained him many admirers, his preaching in such areas as sexual mores, science and the role of women in the church alienated many liberal Catholics.
"He was what you might call a revolutionary conservative," said Giovanni Ferro, editor of the Rome-based Catholic magazine Jesus. (Full story)