updated 2/24/2005 11:23:39 AM ET 2005-02-24T16:23:39

Roman Catholics around the world stopped Thursday to pray for Pope John Paul II as word spread that the pontiff had been rushed to the hospital with the flu for the second time in a month.

In Wadowice, the small town in southern Poland where the pope was born, people offered special prayers at an afternoon mass at St. Mary’s Church, where Karol Wojtyla was baptized and attended Mass for years before he became a priest.

“This is a very emotional moment for me,” said Zdzislaw Szczur, 54, a former activist with Solidarity, the trade union movement that took inspiration from the pope in the struggle against communism.

“His suffering really moves me,” Szczur said as he walked down a Wadowice street. “It’s all God’s providence now.”

In Warsaw, a fresh bouquet of yellow tulips lay at the base of a statue of the pope holding a crucifix-engraved pastoral staff. In overwhelmingly Catholic Poland, love for the pope combines piety and patriotism.

“For me this is very personal,” said Jozefa Hennelowa, a columnist for Tygodnik Powszechny, the liberal Catholic weekly that the pontiff wrote when he served as a priest and bishop in Krakow.

“My husband and I have known the pope since we were students. He married us, he christened our children. We treat him as someone extremely close to us. All this sounds very pessimistic. I’m really afraid,” Hennelowa said.

In central London, people leaving midday Mass at St. Etheldreda’s Church had the pope on their minds.

“I think he has a lot of work to do yet,” said businesswoman Patricia Cullen, 43. She’s hoping to go see the pope when he visits Cologne, Germany, later this year.

In Detroit, Polish-American Cardinal Adam Maida, a longtime friend of the pope who filled in for an ailing John Paul at a 1999 service in Poland, issued a suggested prayer for the pope:

“Father of all life, we ask your special blessing and protection for our Holy Father on earth. We pray that through his suffering we may deepen our own faith in the mystery and hope of sharing in Christ’s Resurrection. According to your will, restore him to the service of your church and keep us all in your peace.”

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