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Vatican source: Pope given last rites

Pontiff in 'serious' condition but responding to antibiotics

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Pope John Paul's health takes a turn for the worse.

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In the Catholic Church, the last rites began as a ritual of healing, but the emphasis shifted over time to forgiving the sins of a dying person as preparation for going to heaven.

The church has tried to return to the original meaning of the sacrament by emphasizing that it is not only for those who are close to death but also for anyone who is ill, by calling it the Anointing of the Sick or the Sacrament of Anointing.

The Anointing of the Sick is performed by a priest who applies oil blessed by a bishop to the organs of the five senses -- eyes, ears, nostrils, lips and hands -- feet, and, for men, loins, although the last step is not always followed.

In cases in which death might come before the ritual can be completed, the priest might anoint only the forehead.

Sources: Catholic Encyclopedia; American Catholic

Pope John Paul II

VATICAN CITY (CNN) -- Pope John Paul II's condition remained "serious" early Friday, but he appeared to be responding well to antibiotic treatment for a urinary tract infection that caused him to develop a fever, a Vatican official said.

Thursday night, as his health deteriorated, the pontiff was given the last rites of the Roman Catholic Church, a Vatican source told CNN.

The sacrament does not necessarily mean that the pope is dying. Last rites -- also known as the sacrament of the sick or extreme unction -- are commonly given to people who are seriously ill as well.

The pope received the sacrament after he was shot by a would-be assassin in 1981.

The pope is suffering from a high fever caused by a urinary tract infection, the Vatican confirmed earlier Thursday -- one day after revealing he had been put on a nasal feeding tube.

Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said in a statement released Wednesday: "To improve his calorific intake and promote an efficient recovery of his strength, nutrition via the positioning of a nasal-gastric tube has begun."

Medical sources at Gemelli hospital in Rome, where the pope has been hospitalized twice since February, told CNN that no provisions are being made for the pope to be readmitted for treatment.

The Vatican has its own medical facilities where he could be treated.

Video of the Vatican showed that the pope's apartments were darkened.

The 84-year-old pope suffers from a number of chronic illnesses, including crippling hip and knee ailments, and Parkinson's disease, a progressive neurological disorder that can make breathing difficult.

The pope was hospitalized from February 1 to February 10 for respiratory difficulties. He returned to the hospital for a tracheotomy February 24 and was discharged March 13.

Ill health forced him to miss a number of events during Holy Week.

On Easter Sunday, the pope tried to speak to a crowd assembled in St. Peter's Square but could not get out the words. He made the sign of the cross with his hand instead. (Full story)

On Monday, he skipped the post-Easter Queen of Heaven prayer for the first time in his 26-year papacy. The traditional appearance on the Monday after Easter has marked the end of the Holy Week celebrations. (Full story)

The pope's death, whenever it comes, will leave a "very large gap that's going to have to be filled," said Monsignor Kevin Irwin of Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

"His illness has given us time to prepare ourselves," he said Thursday. "On the other hand, this is going it be a very, very significant papacy to follow.

"This man made the papacy bigger than life," he said. "He is a man who has been an international traveler involved in many relations with other faiths."

Also in Washington, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick urged Catholics and non-Catholics alike to pray for the pope.

"May he recover. We pray for that. May the Lord give him strength, and may he be able once again to communicate in the way he has done in the past, with such heart and such wisdom," McCarrick said. "But if this is not the Lord's will, then may he not suffer, because he is certainly going through a period of suffering now."

The use of a feeding tube for the pope illustrates his position on treatment for the critically ill.

In 2004, he wrote that doctors have a moral duty to preserve life.

"The administration of water and food, even when provided by artificial means, always represents a natural way of preserving life ... not a medical procedure."

The Vatican has criticized a Florida judge's order to remove the feeding tube from Terri Schiavo, a brain-damaged woman who died Thursday after nearly two weeks without food or water. (Full story)

CNN's Alessio Vinci contributed to this report.

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