VATICAN CITY – Struggling to swallow and breathe, Pope John Paul II mumbled his final words weakly in Polish: “Let me go to the house of the Father.” Six hours later, the comatose pontiff died, the Vatican says.
The account of John Paul’s final hours appears in a meticulously detailed official report on his last weeks just released by the Vatican in what might be an effort to ward off any doubts about how forthcoming it has been about his illness and April 2 death.
There was much speculation in past decades over how some pontiffs died and what caused their end.
John Paul I’s brief tenure of 33 days as pope in 1978 spawned conspiracy theories that he did not die naturally in his bed, as the Vatican said. Some wondered if the pope might have been killed because he had information about an Italian banking scandal in which the Holy See’s bank was later found to be involved.
While no one has publicly suggested anything amiss about John Paul II’s final hours, the Vatican said nothing for years when it was apparent to observers that the globe-trotting, widely beloved pontiff was suffering the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
The Vatican already revealed many of the details in the new report, but the 220-page volume provides more description of John Paul II’s decline. It went on sale at the Vatican in recent days, the Holy See’s publishing house, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, said Saturday.
The book, published as a supplement to the Vatican’s official journal, has entries in chronological order, starting with Jan. 31, the day the Vatican’s press office announced that the pope’s audiences were being suspended because he had flu symptoms.
It chronicles John Paul II’s symptoms, care and response to treatment during two hospitalizations and then during his last days in his Vatican City apartment.
Following the second hospitalization, which included Feb. 24 throat surgery to insert a breathing tube, John Paul’s convalescence was hampered by “very difficult swallowing,” laborious attempts to utter words, “nutritional deficit and marked weakness,” the account says.
Swallowing and breathing problems were consequences of the progression of Parkinson’s disease, which the 84-year-old pope suffered from for years, doctors have said.
Six hours before his death, John Paul said in Polish, “with a very weak voice and with mumbled words, ‘Let me go to the house of the Father,’ ” the report said.
The official account is quite close to one offered last month by John Paul’s longtime personal secretary, now Krakow Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz. He told an Italian TV interviewer that a nun who was near the pontiff heard him say: “Let me go to the Lord.”
The Holy See’s new book said the pope’s longtime physician, Renato Buzzonetti, declared John Paul dead after running an electrocardiogram for more than 20 minutes, “according to Vatican rules.”
Thousands of faithful had gathered to pray aloud and keep vigil in St. Peter’s Square below the apartment in the days before his death. Dziwisz said last month that John Paul heard the crowd and their prayers.
According to the Vatican account, the pope uttered his final words at 3:30 p.m. “A little before 7 p.m., he went into a coma,” it said.
“According to a Polish tradition, a small, lit candle illuminated the twilight of the room, where the pope was expiring,” the account said.
Shortly after the pope died, the Vatican press office announced the time of death as 9:37 p.m.