Pope John Paul II's health condition remains "very serious," but he does respond when addressed, the Vatican said Saturday evening, as millions of Catholics prayed and the world witnessed the pontiff's death throes.
Catholics are praying worldwide for the pontiff
"The clinical conditions of the Holy Father remain very
serious," the Vatican said in a brief statement issued around 1930 CET. "In late morning a high fever developed. When addressed by members of his household, he responds correctly."
Earlier Saturday, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said the 84-year-old pope's overall heart and breathing conditions had not changed and remained "very serious."
Tens of thousands of pilgrims had maintained a vigil for the dying pope in St Peter's Square well into the early hours, overlooked by the apartment of the leader of the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics. In an indication of the pontiff's worsening health, a mass was celebrated Saturday morning in the pope's presence, but significantly he did not take an active role in the ceremony as he had the day before.
Thousands of people pray in on St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Saturday
Navarro-Valls said in a statement: "The general, cardio-respiratory and metabolic conditions of the Holy Father are substantially unchanged and therefore are very serious." As of dawn Saturday, the pope appeared to be moving in and out of consciousness, he said.
Navarro-Valls said in answer to questions that "we noticed a reduction in his consciousness. That absolutely does not mean, technically, that he is in a state of coma. "When spoken to, he opens his eyes and remains conscious. At times it seems he is sleeping or that he is resting his eyes."
The next Vatican's statement on the pope's condition isn't expected until Sunday morning.
Pilgrims pray for during a mass on Saturday in Lourdes, France, where Roman Catholic tradition says St. Bernadette saw visions of Mary in a grotto in 1858.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said after visiting the pontiff early Saturday that he "knows he is dying and said his last goodbye" to the influential German head of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, according to Sky Italia television.
Another visitor, Italian Cardinal Achille Silvestrini, said the pope "gave signs of recognizing people. "I saw him very relaxed," he said, adding he had prayed beside the pope and kissed his hand.
The pontiff also appointed two new archbishops and papal ambassadors and accepted the resignations of three other prelates, approved last month, the Vatican said Saturday. The previous day, he had appointed 17 new bishops and accepted the resignation of six others.
Papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls from Spain
In a communique issued shortly before 1900 CET on Friday, Navarro-Valls (photo) said the pontiff's condition was worsening, his breathing had become shallow and his blood pressure was falling.
"The pope has an extraordinary physique, and at the moment even his doctors are surprised" at his will to live, said Corrado Manni, an anaesthetist who has been present at several of the pope's 10 surgical operations. "I believed that, given the conditions described in the medical bulletin, yesterday he was nearly finished, but he's still not. "That's surprised everyone a little, even me who has known him well for so long," the doctor said.
The pope was lying under white blankets in the center of his room, propped up by pillows, according to Cardinal Mario Francesco Pompedda who went to see him on Friday. "I was captured by the beauty of this smiling look. He clearly wanted me to understand that he recognized me," Pompedda told the daily La Repubblica.
The faithful pray in Cologne Cathedral on Friday
Many newspapers, however, already spoke of the pontiff in the past tense. The Turin daily La Stampa even published a full obituary on its front page, entitled "John Paul II 1978-2005."
The pontiff, who has Parkinson's disease, severe lung and throat problems and has long been confined to a wheelchair, suddenly took a sharp turn for the worse late Thursday, when he was given the last rites.
The crowd in St Peter's Square swelled to nearly 70,000 at one point after midnight Friday, but as the hours passed the numbers dwindled to several hundred gazing up at the pope's windows.
Two girls protect a candle flame as faithful gather for prayers in St. Peter's square at the Vatican on Friday
Across the world, from his native Poland to Indonesia, from the Americas to the Middle East, millions of others also prayed for a pontiff who has led the Roman Catholic Church for more than a quarter of a century.
Born Karol Wojtyla in a small town near Cracow, southern Poland, he is the first non-Italian pope in more than four centuries and the 263rd successor to Saint Peter -- one of the disciples of Jesus -- as Bishop of Rome. Elected pontiff in 1978 at the age of 58, he revolutionized the papacy and contributed to the collapse of communism in eastern Europe.
But he also alienated many Catholics with his conservative social views, especially dealing with sex in a world struggling with AIDS.
In Poland, the press prepared for the death of their countryman. "The pope is in his death throes," Gazeta Wybrocza daily wrote.