msnbc.com staff and news service reports

• BASILICA REOPENS TO PILGRIMS | 7:11 a.m. ET, April 7

Police reopened St. Peter's Basilica and the huge line of pilgrims leading to it Thursday, giving the faithful a final chance to pay respects to Pope John Paul II. Thousands of Poles held aloft red-and-white Polish flags, adding a shimmering stripe of color to the procession.

Authorities had closed the line Wednesday night as officials rushed to make last-minute preparations for the pope's funeral on Friday, which was drawing leaders from more than 100 countries.

They also closed the basilica for a few hours overnight for cleaning.

By the time the basilica and line reopened, many who had waited hours for a chance to spend a few seconds briefly viewing the pope's body had given up and left.

• VIRTUAL TRIBUTES TO POPE | 5:52 a.m. ET

Pope John Paul did not like computers, never had a cell phone and wrote everything by hand, but his death is being mourned in a most 21st-century way with weblogs and SMSs.

"You knew in your heart that your death would spark peace among us," read a blog entry from Michele Martini, 24. "I'm just sorry that we only paid you half as much attention in your life as we have in your death."

MTV Italia invited viewers to send in text messages about the Pope which scrolled across the bottom of a screen unusually void of scantily clad dancers and sexual innuendo.

"TVB Papa," wrote one MTV viewer — common SMS shorthand for "ti voglio bene" (I love you). Another read "6 (sei) un grande. K (che) triste siamo" or "You're fantastic. How sad we are."

In life, the Pope wrote his encyclicals by hand in Polish and left his aides to transfer them onto computers. In death, people around the world leaned on their laptops to muse over how much the Pope and his death meant to them.

"How extraordinary it is that people he never met, spoke with or touched are bawling over his death as if their own grandfather has died," wrote Becky on http://discardedthought.blogspot.com.

"For some inexplicable reason, the death of the Pope feels like the Church is calling me home, like I need to go back into her arms and share my grief with my community," she said.

A Mexican site http://visor.linuxreal.org included a chat room discussing the hypocrisy of people openly mourning the Pope but blatantly behaving in ways that flout his moral teaching.

"I find it deeply sad to see how man has become a social parasite, joining in with everybody else for their own pleasure and comfort but with no integrity," the site manager wrote.

But it was perhaps old-fashioned pencil and paper that conveyed most poignantly the immense impact the Pope had on the world — a picture drawn by 5-year-old Francesca and left in St. Peter's Square.

It showed the Pope dressed in white waving from the same apartment window from which he used to bless pilgrims in the square below. Underneath Francesca had drawn her family in bright colors, a speech bubble coming from their mouths saying: "Ciao Papissimo."

• 'APPROXIMATION OF ETERNITY' | 4:34 a.m. ET

There is probably only one place in the world where the cash machines give instructions in Latin: Vatican City.

The tiny papal state that will host pilgrims and presidents for the funeral of Pope John Paul II on Friday is seen as both extraordinary and mundane.

It is the world’s smallest state but one of its most influential, filled with some of the world’s greatest artistic treasures — and its deepest secrets.

Behind its walls lie Michaelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, rooms of Raphael frescoes, a 1,600-year-old tomb and manicured gardens with tulips and pines.

Cardinals in red cassocks discuss Church business in its Apostolic Palace, monsignors pass Vietnamese nuns in the shadow of St. Peter’s Basilica.

But there is also a gas pump, a bank, a train station, a post office, a world-renowned pharmacy and a supermarket. The state has its own police, passports and license plates.

“It is an approximation of eternity,” is how Italian writer Vittorio Zucconi described Vatican City.

Mario, a Vatican security guard who would not give his surname, laughed at the suggestion.

“It’s like anywhere else, maybe a little quieter,” he said, standing at an entrance on the side of St. Peter’s where workmen covered in dust emerged from digging John Paul’s tomb.

• CHINESE ENVOY TO SKIP FUNERAL | 3:45 a.m. ET

The Chinese government said Thursday it won't send an envoy to Pope John Paul II's funeral due to the Vatican's diplomatic relations with rival Taiwan.

"Under the current circumstances, China will not send a delegation," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang.

China refuses to have any official contact with governments that recognize Taiwan as a sovereign country. The mainland claims the island as part of its territory. The Vatican is the only European government that has official relations with Taiwan instead of Beijing.

The Chinese government said this week it would consider opening relations with the Vatican only if it breaks ties with Taiwan and avoids interference in Chinese affairs.

"We hope the Vatican will take concrete steps for improving China-Vatican relations, instead of setting up new barriers," Qin said at a regular news briefing.

China's communist government ordered its Roman Catholics to break ties with the Vatican in 1951.

• MASSIVE SECURITY NET | 1:50 a.m. ET

Rome has imposed a no-fly zone, installed anti-aircraft missiles and drafted thousands of extra police to protect world leaders and faithful at Friday’s funeral for John Paul II.

• REGRETS FROM ORTEGA | 11:05 p.m. ET

Former Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega says he regretted a clash with Pope John Paul II who was heckled by leftist Sandinista supporters during a 1983 visit.

Ortega said the face-off between the Sandinistas and the pope -- who opposed guerrilla movements fighting dictatorships across Latin America -- had not been intended.

“The truth is there was no intention of showing disrespect to the pope. We did everything possible for his visit to be a success,” said Ortega.

Ortega greeted the pope on his first visit to Nicaragua with a long speech about U.S. imperialism in the region. Then, angered by the presence of two priests in the Marxist Sandinista government that overthrew the Somoza family dictatorship in 1979, John Paul II publicly wagged his finger at one of them.

That night, thousands of Sandinista supporters disrupted his open-air mass in the capital Managua by shouting political slogans and demanding that he bless the revolution.

Shaking his pastoral staff, the pope ordered the Sandinistas to be quiet, but he was ignored by many in the crowd.

“There were no insults against his Holiness, there was not a word said that attacked his Holiness’s office,” Ortega told Reuters.

• VISIONS OF ECONOMIC WINDFALL | 9:30 p.m. ET

With up to 4 million pilgrims pouring into the city to pay their respects to Pope John Paul II, businesses hope for an unseasonable windfall worth millions of dollars — but some say profits could be disappointing.

City officials, storekeepers and business owners complained Wednesday some of the profit is going to unlicensed street vendors — selling water, food or papal trinkets, for instance — and said stores that are not near the Vatican are almost empty.

These are not the high-rolling spenders who wander through the ancient ruins or museums of the Eternal City. These are pilgrims who don’t go to restaurants, take cabs or tourist trips around Rome.

But their sheer numbers are bound to translate into a business boon.

So many are coming for Friday’s funeral that the city is offering free cots at tent camps erected on a fairground, in an unused railway building and inside a concert hall.

“This is a type of tourism that is eat-and-run,” said Franco Cioffarelli, the city’s financial chief. “It certainly brings in money, but I don’t think this is a relevant phenomenon financially.”

• HUGE DEMAND FOR MEMORIAL PRODUCTS | 7:50 p.m. ET

Roman Catholic churches across the United States have been rushing to find bunting, candles and other products to help the faithful mourn the death of Pope John Paul II — and to recognize a new pontiff once he is chosen.

That’s meant a busy week for companies and stores that sell religious items.

“Until Friday, it was just a steady stream of people inquiring (about) what products would be available when the pope passes, and people were quite afraid to really come out and say it,” said Grant T. Orr, whose Gaithersburg, Md., company is one of the largest wholesale liturgical product sellers on the East Coast. The company also has a retail store in Baltimore.

Before it happened, Orr didn’t want to advertise or even bring up the subject of the pope’s death because doing so seemed crass to him: “I didn’t want to do anything really — other than the peripheral planning — until he passed.”

So when the pope died Saturday, business soared and made things hectic.

Condolence books and cards with the pope’s picture have been very popular, as have memorial candles with the papal coat-of-arms.

Orr has spent most of the week calling manufacturers, asking them to ship goods quickly. Some churches saw a month’s supply of candles dwindle rapidly over the weekend.

• POLICE STEM FLOW OF FAITHFUL | 6:40 p.m. ET

More than 1 million pilgrims will have filed by Pope John Paul II's crimson-robed body by the end of Wednesday, according to calculations by the Italian civil defense department.

Police stepped in Wednesday to turn back mourners hoping to join the viewing line.

Seeking to clear the basilica by Thursday evening so the Vatican could prepare for the pontiff's funeral the following day, police announced they would close the line at 10 p.m. Wednesday night (4 p.m. Wednesday ET)

“We’re just hoping the order can be reversed,” said Federica Bruni, a 20-year-old student who came from northern Italy and was one of the first to be told to go away Wednesday night.

It took more than an hour after the deadline to set up the barricades and establish the cutoff point.

“You tell these people!” said one Civil Defense officer in frustration as the time passed for the line to end. “How can we close?”

• NORWAY’S HISTORIC REQUIEM MASS | 5:50 p.m. ET

Roman Catholics celebrated the first requiem Mass since the 16th century in Norway’s oldest cathedral on Wednesday in a tribute to Pope John Paul II and his work to unite Christians.

“This is a historic event,” Bishop Finn Wagle of Norway’s Lutheran state church told Reuters of the evening service in the 12th century Nidaros Cathedral in the city of Trondheim.

“No Catholic requiem Mass has been held here since the Reformation,” Wagle said. Denmark, which used to rule Norway, introduced the Reformation in 1537 by dissolving monasteries, confiscating church property and appointing Lutheran bishops.

Since 1993, Catholics have been allowed back to use Nidaros Cathedral for an annual service in July commemorating Norway’s Viking-era patron St. Olav, believed to be buried on the site after his death in 1030.

Roman Catholic Bishop Georg Mueller celebrated Wednesday’s Mass, attended by about 400 people, including Wagle.

Pope John Paul II visited Norway in 1989 and, as part of his work to reach out to other Christians, attended a service in Nidaros Cathedral with Lutheran church leaders.

• ENSURING CONCLAVE SECRECY | 4:35 p.m. ET

In an age of media leaks and cell phones, the Vatican is determined to keep the secret deliberations for electing a new pope just that — secret.

Pope John Paul set out the instructions in a 1996 document. It gives the cardinals who will chose his successor a set of detailed guidelines to ensure the centuries-old process of choosing a pope remains safe.

In it, the late pope calls for a clean sweep by “trustworthy” technicians of the Sistine Chapel and adjoining rooms to prevent bugs and other audiovisual equipment from being installed.

The document says whoever breaks the oath of secrecy will face “grave penalties,” such as excommunication.

Despite such measures, John Paul also changed the rules to allow the cardinals greater freedom while the conclave is under way.

Previously, cardinals were literally locked up inside the Apostolic Palace. This time, they will be allowed to come and go.

• POPE'S AIDE OF 40 YEARS PACKS UP | 3:45 p.m. ET

The pope’s faithful Polish servant is packing his bags.

Before Friday’s funeral, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz will place a silk veil over the late pontiff’s face and recite a prayer before the coffin is closed. It will be the last public act for the man he served as private secretary for more than 40 years.

Then he will gather up his belongings and move out of the papal apartments, along with the five Polish nuns who attended the pontiff. New rules, drawn up by John Paul II in 1996, require the quarters to be emptied of all personnel and sealed until the new pope moves in.

Dziwisz (pronounced “gee-vish”) is known at the Vatican simply as Don Stanislaw.

Bishop Szczepan Wesoly, a longtime Polish friend, said Dziwisz was sorting through his books and personal possessions Wednesday. After the funeral, he will be living in a residence for Polish pilgrims on the outskirts of Rome, Wesoly said.

“He’s very, very sad and feels a little lost. Forty years together is a long time,” Wesoly, rector of the Polish church in Rome, told The Associated Press. “But he knew the end was nearing, so he was prepared for the day.”

By tradition, papal secretaries fade from the scene when a papacy ends.

The Polish nuns who attended to John Paul’s personal needs during his papacy also have to move out by Saturday.

They and Dziwisz were looked on as the family of John Paul, who had lost all his immediate family members and other close relatives by the time he became pope.

The nuns helped the pope with his private correspondence, cooked his favorite Polish dishes and cared for him in his illnesses.

• U.S. PRESIDENT SCHEDULES VIEWING | 2:40 p.m. ET

U.S. President George W. Bush will view the body of Pope John II immediately upon his arrival from Washington, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said.

Bush and a U.S. delegation that includes two former presidents were flying to Rome late Wednesday to attend Friday's funeral, along with kings, presidents and government leaders from some 100 countries.

• MORE THAN 1 MILLION STILL IN LINE | 1:33 p.m. ET

More than 1 million pilgrims have filed past Pope John Paul’s body since it was moved to St. Peter’s Basilica on Monday, but another 1.2 million people remain lined up in streets around the Vatican only hours before police cut off the procession at 10 p.m. (4 p.m. ET), Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni tells Reuters.

• PHILIPPINE CARDINAL AILING | 12:31 p.m. ET

Cardinal Jaime Sin of the Philippines is ill and will be unable to attend the conclave to elect the next pope, the Philippines Embassy to the Holy See says.

The absence of Sin, 76, one of only three cardinal electors who also took part in the 1978 enclave to elect John Paul II, means that 116 cardinals will participate in the secret balloting.

• PROTESTS IN WISCONSIN | 11:29 a.m. ET

A group in Wisconsin is objecting to the lowering of flags to honor the pope.

Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle ordered flags lowered to half-staff at public buildings this week in honor of Pope John Paul. President Bush has done the same.

That doesn’t sit well with the Freedom From Religion Foundation in Madison. Foundation co-president Annie Gaylor says the order appears to endorse Roman Catholicism over other religious viewpoints.

Gaylor says she respects the private mourning of Catholics --but says grieving endorsed by the state is wrong.

• POLISH LAWMAKERS HONOR POPE | 10:48 a.m. ET

Lawmakers in Pope John Paul II’s homeland honored him as a national hero on Wednesday with prayers, eulogies and praise for his support of the pro-democracy opposition that peacefully ended communist rule of Poland in 1989.

On the parliament chamber’s podium, a black sash was draped across the white-and-red banners of Poland’s national colors. A portrait of the pope and an ornamented armchair from which he addressed lawmakers in June 1999 stood nearby.

“Poland is crying over the loss of her most outstanding son,” parliament speaker Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz told an assembly of the upper and lower houses attended by President Aleksander Kwasniewski, Prime Minister Marek Belka and senior Roman Catholic clergy.

“United by sadness and pain, Poles honor the memory of a wonderful, clever man and an outstanding pope,” he said. “The man is gone, but his ideas and thoughts remain.”

• 'WHERE WOULD JESUS SIT?' | 9:55 a.m. ET

The "Princes of the Church" are getting a great deal of scrutiny these days as they prepare for the conclave on April 18.

But all the publicity may not be welcome. Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez asked Wednesday "Where would Jesus sit," after noting a photograph of Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahoney traveling to Rome in a first-class seat, accompanied by his press officer Tod Tamberg.

He added, "Generally speaking, it's always better for a man of the cloth to sit with his flock than with his flack."

• SHUTTING THE LINE | 9:29 a.m. ET

The line of pilgrims waiting to view Pope John Paul’s body has grown so long that starting at 10 p.m.  (3 p.m. ET), no more faithful will be allowed to join it, Italian authorities said on Wednesday.

A spokesman for the civil protection agency said that some 1.2 million people had massed near the Vatican and that pilgrims were waiting in line for between 12 and 14 hours before entering St. Peter’s Basilica to see the pontiff’s body.

Those in the line at the shutoff time tonight will be allowed to file past John Paul’s body, but after they have all passed through the basilica, the doors will be shut to permit preparations for his funeral on Friday, the spokesman said.

• WILL OF THE POPE | 8:03 a.m. ET

The Vatican will release Pope John Paul's last will and testament on Thursday, a spokesman said on Wednesday.

Spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said the document was about 15 pages long. It was read to cardinals on Wednesday.

Navarro-Valls told a news briefing the Pope, who died last Saturday, had written the will over the course of his pontificate, starting in 1979, the year after his election.

• DATE FOR CONCLAVE | 6:42 a.m. ET

Cardinals may soon announce when they’ll start their conclave to choose Pope John Paul’s successor.

An Italian cardinal says the date will “probably” be chosen today.

Church leaders have gathered for a third day to make the final arrangements for Friday’s funeral and John Paul’s entombment under St. Peter’s Basilica. They may also read the pope’s last writings.

We’re learning more about the ritual surrounding John Paul’s burial. A white silk veil will be placed on his face, while a prayer is read. The pontiff will be clad in liturgical vestments and will wear his white bishop’s miter on his head. The body will be placed inside three coffins encased within each other -- wood, zinc and wood. That’s meant to slow down decomposition.

• MAIN NETWORKS TO AIR FUNERAL LIVE | 4:10 a.m. ET

The "Big Three" broadcast networks will go all out to cover the funeral of Pope John Paul II on Friday, even though the bulk of the telecast will occur when most of America is still asleep.

The funeral will begin at 4 a.m. ET/1 a.m. PT from Vatican City. Many of the broadcast networks’ stars will be there, including ABC’s Charles Gibson and CBS’ Harry Smith and John Roberts. NBC’s Brian Williams will be the only one of the Big Three anchors to be on hand, with Peter Jennings’ illness announced Tuesday .

Marcy McGinnis, senior vice president for news at CBS News, said the early start would not affect the network’s funeral coverage. “We will produce it as if it was happening at any other time,” McGinnis said Tuesday.

“It’s one of those events that isn’t about ratings. It’s history,” said Mark Lukasiewicz, executive producer of NBC News specials. “This is a remarkable event. It’s a funeral Mass for someone who has had an incredibly deep impact on the world, both politically and spiritually. I suspect a lot of people will watch, but that’s not at the forefront of my mind.”

• TAIWAN PRESIDENT PLANS TO ATTEND  | 11:40 p.m. ET

Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian plans to attend Friday’s funeral of Pope John Paul, officials say, amid speculation that the Vatican may cut ties with the island in order to recognize China.

It would be a diplomatic breakthrough for the self-ruled island viewed by China as a breakaway province if Chen can go to the Vatican, Taiwan’s only diplomatic foothold in Europe.

Only 25 states officially recognize Taiwan.

“At the moment, we are moving towards the direction of having the president going to the pope’s funeral,” Taiwan foreign ministry spokesman Michel Lu said.

A final decision will be made later on Wednesday, Lu said, adding Taiwan’s ties with the Holy See remained intact.

• EX-U.S. PRESIDENTS TO ATTEND FUNERAL  | 10:25 p.m. ET

Former Presidents Bush and Clinton will accompany President Bush to the funeral of Pope John Paul II, the White House says. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will also be part of the small official U.S. delegation, but former Presidents Carter and Ford will not.

The president and his wife, Laura, will lead the group representing the United States at the funeral on Friday, said White House press secretary Scott McClellan.

McClellan said the White House “reached out” to Carter, but he would not explain why Carter was not going along.

A spokesman at The Carter Center in Atlanta, Jon Moore, said Carter — relishing the memories of two visits as president with the pontiff — had told the White House he wanted to go to the funeral. Upon learning that the Vatican was limiting the U.S. delegation to five people and that “there were also others who were eager to attend,” Carter was “quite willing” to withdraw his request, Moore said.

“He and his wife Rosalynn are very pleased with the official delegation,” Moore said of Carter.

Former President Ford, who lives in California, is 91 and no longer travels extensively.

• PILGRIMS CONVERGE ON ROME | 7 p.m. ET

By the tens of thousands, Catholics from around the globe are streaming into Rome, fighting for taxis and squeezing into buses resembling rush-hour Tokyo subways.

A Polish college student hitchhiked for 54 hours, bouncing in the back of a lumber truck and a tractor-trailer rig hauling chocolates.

Her journey ended Tuesday at a makeshift tent city hastily erected on a wind-swept field on the outskirts of Rome. The ancient city has been coping with crowds for centuries, but now it’s bracing for an unprecedented crush of up to 4 million pilgrims determined to pay tearful tribute to Pope John Paul II.

“I wanted to do something, to give something back to this person who did so much for others,” Aleksandra Stominska, 20, who hitchhiked her way to Rome from Krakow, Poland, told The Associated Press.

Similar camps were being thrown up on a fairground, in an unused railway building and inside a concert hall, along with hundreds of portable toilets and medical tents to be manned round-the-clock starting Wednesday.

Mayor Walter Veltroni warned the city’s 3 million citizens that the run-up to Friday’s funeral could be unlike any influx they’ve ever seen, and it’s certainly shaping up that way. Poland’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that about 2 million Poles alone are expected to converge on Rome.

• CATHOLIC LAWMAKERS HEADING TO ROME | 5:45 p.m. ET

Some of Congress’ most well-known Catholics will attend the funeral Friday of Pope John Paul II, though not as part of the official U.S. delegation.

Among them are Sens. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., and Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California.

The Senate delegation of 14 will be led by Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn. Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., will lead a House delegation of about two dozen members.

Hotel rooms are scarce in Rome, which could result in U.S. lawmakers spending the night Thursday at the American embassy, a monastery, distant hotels or even the cozy seats of the airplane, Republican and Democratic aides said.

The Senate delegation also includes Republicans Jim Bunning of Kentucky, Susan Collins of Maine, Mike DeWine of Ohio, Pete Domenici of New Mexico and Mel Martinez of Florida, and Democrats Joe Biden of Delaware, Chris Dodd of Connecticut, Richard Durbin of Illinois, John Kerry of Massachusetts, Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Barbara Mikulski of Maryland.

• POPE GUNMAN WON'T ATTEND FUNERAL | 4:45 p.m. ET

Turkish authorities on Tuesday turned down a request by the man who shot and seriously wounded Pope John Paul II in 1981 to leave prison and attend the pontiff’s funeral, his lawyer said.

Mehmet Ali Agca was seeking permission under a Turkish law that allows 72 hours’ leave to prisoners who have served a quarter of their term and have shown “good behavior,” said his lawyer, Mustafa Demirbag.

“We got the response, it was negative,” Demirbag told The Associated Press by telephone. “They said it was impossible because he was not eligible.”

Demirbag has acknowledged earlier that there was little chance that Agca would be allowed to leave prison.

The pope met with Agca in an Italian prison in 1983 and forgave him for the shooting. Agca was extradited to Turkey in 2000 after almost 20 years behind bars in Italy. Agca is currently serving a 17-year prison sentence in Istanbul for earlier crimes in Turkey.

• UNDERGROUND BURIAL | 3:30 p.m. ET

The pontiff expressed a wish to be buried in the ground, as opposed to being placed in an above-ground tomb, Archbishop Piero Marini, the Vatican’s master of ceremonies for liturgical celebrations, said Tuesday.

The grottoes where John Paul II will be buried form a cramped underground cemetery beneath St. Peter’s Basilica, where pontiffs throughout the ages, royals and even an emperor have been laid to rest.

Adorned with mosaics, frescoes, sculptures and crypts, the grottoes lie at the very heart of Christianity, near the site of St. Peter’s burial.

• 15,000 TO 18,000 VISITORS PER HOUR | 12:45 p.m. ET

Between 15,000 and 18,000 people an hour are filing past the body of Pope John Paul as it lies in state in St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican said on Tuesday.

Some 400,000 people poured into area around the city state on Monday hoping to catch a glimpse of the dead Pontiff and at least another 600,000 are expected to come to the area around the basilica by the end of Tuesday, a Vatican statement said.

Officials are predicting another 600,000 for Wednesday.

Pope John Paul’s funeral is set for Friday with Rome authorities braced for some 2 million visitors for the event.

• GROWING GUEST LIST | 11:52 a.m. ET

Kings, queens and heads of state and government will join up to 2 million pilgrims for the funeral of Pope John Paul on Friday in what is expected to be the biggest gathering at the Vatican in its history.

Among the luminaries will be King Albert II and Queen Paola of Belgium, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil, President Jacques Chirac of France, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse of Sri Lanka, Prince Charles and Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain and, of course, President Bush .

• A BLAST FROM OUTSPOKEN THEOLOGIAN | 10:45 a.m. ET

Amid the outpouring of praise for the late pope, a leading theologian who defied John Paul II says the pontiff has bequeathed a “dead hand” on the Roman Catholic church that will continue to exert a damaging influence beyond his death.

“The Polish pope’s internal policies were devastating,” Hans Kueng said in a statement, citing “many average, even incompetent bishops, some countries where over half of all parishes are without priests, and less and less qualified new blood.”

He added, “This pope continued to forbid priests from marrying, he forbade women to use the Pill, men to use condoms, women to take Church ministries, lay theologists to preach and Christians (of other denominations) to share the Eucharist.”

• NORTH KOREA MOURNS | 9:20 a.m. ET

North Korea, an officially atheist state, reports that Catholics in the country are holding memorial services in Pyongyang and across the country in honor of the pope.

The official KCNA news agency cited a condolence message it said had been sent to the Vatican by Samuel Jang Jae On, described as chairman of the Central Committee of the Korean Catholics Association.

"All the Catholic believers of our country are also offering memorial service in deep grief at the Jangchung cathedral in Pyongyang and family worship places across the country," Jang said, according to KCNA.

• BELLS FOR THE POPE | 8:25 a.m. ET

In a break with tradition, the white smoke that signals the election of a new pontiff will be accompanied by the ringing of bells in the Vatican.

Archbishop Piero Marini, master of ceremonies for liturgical celebrations, say the bells were being added to avoid confusion over the color of the smoke coming from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel.

In the past, depending on the weather, the color of the smoke wasn't always clear to the faithful gathered outside.

• SECRET CARDINAL TO BE REVEALED? | 6:11 a.m. ET

As they gather to arrange the pope's funeral and begin the process of selecting a new pontiff, the cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church — who are sworn to secrecy on their deliberations — are reviewing any papers the pope may have left for them.

It is believed one such document may reveal the name of a mysterious cardinal John Paul said he had named in 2003 but had never publicly identified. The cardinal is called “in pectore,” or “in the heart” — a formula that has been used when the pope wants to name a cardinal in a country where the church is oppressed.

• PILGRIMS ENDURE CHILLY NIGHT | 4:15 a.m. ET

A sea of faithful filed past Pope John Paul II’s body in St. Peter’s Basilica on Tuesday, many having endured a long and cold wait.

“It was extremely cold during the night, but we were warm towards each other. People were lending each other blankets and praying together,” said Lina Cardella, who traveled from Naples with her husband and two daughters and lined up for five hours.

• CHURCH TO CUT TIES WITH TAIWAN? | 2:30 a.m. ET

The Vatican’s pursuit of greater influence over the world's Catholics continues amid preparations for the funeral of Pope John Paul II.

The Church may be willing to cut ties with Taiwan and set up relations with China if Beijing could guarantee religious freedom, the head of the Hong Kong Roman Catholic diocese said on Tuesday.

“If the Chinese government is willing to grant real freedom to the church in mainland China, then the Vatican would reluctantly be willing to give up its diplomatic relations with Taiwan,” Bishop Joseph Zen told Reuters.

“The unfair thing is, Beijing wants the Vatican to stop its relations with Taiwan first before it will talk with the Vatican.”

China severed relations with the Holy See in the 1950s after expelling foreign clergy. Believers must attend state-sanctioned churches which pledge loyalty to Beijing instead of the Vatican, though many worship the Pope in secret.

• IRELAND DEBATES 'DAY OF MOURNING' | 12:16 a.m. ET

Ireland's prime minister directed government buildings to fly the flag at half-staff Monday in honor of Pope John Paul II, but he stirred arguments by refusing to declare a national holiday for the pontiff’s funeral Friday.

Bertie Ahern faced widespread calls to authorize a “national day of mourning” in Ireland, an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic nation, to coincide with the pope’s funeral. Ireland observed such an exceptional holiday following the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

The premier said government employees and teachers would be allowed to take Friday off “to attend an appropriate service,” and he urged private employers to permit the same privilege. He said the country’s 4 million citizens should use the coming five days “to personally reflect on the life and contribution of Pope John Paul II.”

Employers accused people of trying to exploit the pope’s death to get out of work, while labor unions accused Ahern of making things tougher for working parents by letting schools close.

“As religious ceremonies can be attended before or after work, there should be no disruption to business,” said Turlough O’Sullivan, director general of the Irish Business and Employers Confederation, which represents more than 7,000 employers.

• CONTROVERSY IN FRANCE | 11:06 p.m. ET

Secularists criticized the French government Monday for lowering flags to half-staff out of respect for Pope John Paul II, calling it an attack on the country’s century-old separation of church and state.

“The French Republic should not descend to such a level,” said Socialist Sen. Michel Charasse, a former finance minister. “If the Dalai Lama were to die tomorrow, would we lower the flags to half-staff?”

The Communist mayor of Aniane refused to lower flags in the picturesque village in southern France, the mayor’s office said.

Cardinal Bernard Panafieu of Marseille disputed the critics’ view.

Lowering flags “in no way damages secularism, which we ourselves strongly support,” he said. “It’s simply a sign that there are people in the world who transcend ideologies and borders because they are men of peace and reconciliation.”

• CASTRO PRAISES POPE AS FRIEND OF PEACE, THE POOR | 7:35 p.m. ET

Cuban President Fidel Castro, paying his last respects to the only pontiff to visit Cuba, called Pope John Paul II on Monday an “indefatigable warrior” who fought for peace and the world’s poor.

“Your departure pains us, unforgettable friend, and we fervently wish your example is lasting,” Castro wrote in the book of condolences at the Papal Nunciature.

“Rest in peace, indefatigable warrior for friendship between peoples, enemy of war and friend of the poor,” he wrote.

Castro thanked the late pontiff for condemning U.S. sanctions against communist Cuba as “ethically unacceptable” during his historic visit to the Caribbean island in January 1998.

• OAS POSTPONES VOTE BECAUSE OF FUNERAL | 5:50 p.m. ET

The 34-nation Organization of American States on Monday postponed an election for a new chief, saying many Latin American foreign ministers who had planned to attend this week are instead heading to Rome for the funeral of Pope John Paul II, a spokesman said.

The OAS Permanent Council had scheduled an election to choose a new secretary general on Thursday in Washington, but the date was pushed back to April 11 to avoid conflicts with the pope's funeral, spokesman Ian Edwards said.

• THOUSANDS PAY LAST RESPECTS | 2:30 p.m. ET

The first of thousands of people paid final respects to John Paul in a procession that was expected to continue for days.

People crossed themselves as they filed past. Some took pictures of of the pontiff in his crimson robe and white bishop's miter.

Police intervened to control the crush of people when the doors to St. Peter's Basilica first opened, an Italian news agency said. There was no immediate report of serious disorder or injury.

DOORS OPEN TO PUBLIC | 1:52 p.m. ET

The doors of St. Peter's Basilica open to the public for the viewing of the body of Pope John Paul II.

GROWING GUEST LIST | 1:25 p.m. ET

The list of leaders and luminaries announcing plans to attend the pope's funeral continued to grow on Monday. Poland was to be represented by President Aleksander Kwasniewski, Prime Minister Marek Belka, and former President and Solidarity leader Lech Walesa.

Syrian President Bashar Assad, Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov and Metropolitan Kirill, foreign minister for the Russian Orthodox Church were also on the list of dignitaries planning to attend, along with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, EU President President Jose Manuel Barroso, and Britain's Prince Charles and Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Presidents from many former Soviet bloc countries were also on the list.

SPECIAL PROVISIONS IN POLAND | 12:45 p.m. ET

In the pope's homeland of Poland, authorities are making special provisions for viewing Friday's funeral. In Krakow, the proceedings are to be broadcast live on giant television screens in the city's Blonie Field, which is also where John Paul celebrated Mass during his visit to Krakow.

• ARRIVAL AT THE ALTAR | 11:54 a.m. ET

Prayers are being said over John Paul's body in St. Peter's Basilica while an estimated 100,000 people wait outside in St. Peter's Square to pay their respects.

• HEADING TO ST. PETER'S | 11:15 a.m. ET

In a ceremony full of ritual and Vatican tradition, the body is John Paul II is being moved from his private quarters to St. Peter's Basilica.

Ten pallbearers flanked by Swiss Guards are carrying the late pontiff's body on a crimson platform from the Clementine Hall, where it had laid in state since Sunday.

• MOVING THE REMAINS | 10:49 a.m. ET

The process of moving Pope John Paul’s body to St. Peter’s Basilica will begins at 11 a.m. ET with a prayer over the coffin by Chamberlain Cardinal Camerlengo.

The procession will walk through the Noble Staircase, the Raphael corridors, the Hall of Dukes, the Royal Hall, then down the long royal staircase designed by Bernini. It will end in the sloping hallway that leads to the "Portone di Bronzo," the bronze door that is the formal entrance to the Apostolic Palace.

Inside the basilica, the coffin will be placed in front of the Altar of the Confession, the main Bernini bronze columned altar. Following the placement, there will be prayers. Only when this process is completed, at around 2 p.m. ET, will the public be permitted to view the remains.

• NEW PLANS FOR CHARLES | 9:50 a.m. ET

Instead of getting married on Friday as he had planned, Britain's Prince Charles will be leading a British delegation to the funeral. The heir to the throne will instead tie the knot with Camilla Parker Bowles on Saturday.

• BUSH TO ATTEND | 9:12 a.m. ET

White House confirms that President Bush will attend the funeral on Friday. He may leave for Rome as early as Wednesday.

• U.S. DELEGATION | 8:55 a.m. ET

According to U.S. officials, the American delegation to the pope's funeral on Friday will include Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, as well as Senators Rick Santorum and Mel Martinez.

• BURIAL IN THE VATICAN | 7:45 a.m. ET

Despite talk in Poland that the pontiff would be buried in his homeland, the Vatican says his remains will be interred in the grotto of St. Peter's Basilica where popes throughout the ages have been laid to rest.

• TIME FOR THE FUNERAL | 7:04 a.m. ET

Italian news agencies, citing unidentified sources, report that the funeral service will be at 10 a.m. (4 a.m. EDT) Friday. Under Vatican tradition, it would have to be held between Wednesday and Friday.

Shortly, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Walls will hold a news conference, his first since the death of the pope, at which he is expected to discuss the arrangement for this week.

• CARDINALS CONVENE AT VATICAN | 4:54 a.m. ET

The College of Cardinals has begun its meeting at the Vatican to plan Pope John Paul II’s funeral and the destruction of his papal ring. Later this month, the red-capped prelates will convene a conclave to pick a new pope .

Monday's meeting at the Bologna Hall of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace is the first gathering of the world’s Roman Catholic cardinals since the pontiff’s death. They will open any final documents John Paul may have prepared for them and set a date for this week’s funeral.

The body of John Paul will emerge from an inner sanctum of the Vatican Monday afternoon for a public viewing.

• ENVOY REMEMBERS POPE'S HUMOR | 3:45 a.m. ET

A U.S. diplomat remembers Pope John Paul II, stricken with the tremors of Parkinson’s disease, greeting a young priest by the arm and putting the man quickly at ease at what could have been an awkward moment.

“What’s the matter, son?” the pope asked. “You’re too young to be trembling like that.”

Lindy Boggs, ambassador to the Vatican from 1997-2001, was one of several former U.S. envoys to the Holy See who thought back Sunday on the personal moments they enjoyed with the pontiff.

Like Boggs, Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson, ambassador from 2001 until early this year, was struck by the pope’s sense of humor. Nicholson told of a U.S. cardinal who asked the pope, during these recent months of declining health, how he was feeling.

“I don’t know yet,” the pope said, according to Nicholson. “I haven’t had a chance to read the American press. Tell them I don’t run the church with my feet.”

• VIETNAM OFFERS CONDOLENCES | 1:51 a.m. ET

Pope John Paul II, the most traveled pontiff in history, never visited Vietnam. But his name is everywhere in the communist country.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Phan Van Khai sent a message of condolence to the Vatican.

News of the Pope’s death appeared within hours on the front page of the online edition of the Vietnam Communist Party newspaper, Nhan Dan.

On Monday, the party’s umbrella organization, the Fatherland Front, praised the pope's efforts in a condolence message sent to the Vietnam Bishops Council which appeared on the daily’s front page.

“Pope John Paul II was a religious leader who contributed much to advocating peace and reconciliation, to condemning the crime of genocide, war criminals and the threat of the HIV/AIDS pandemic,” said Pham The Duyet, chairman of the organization.

Meanwhile, an official of the Government Committee for Religious Affairs said Hanoi had made preparations for churches nationwide to hold mourning rites, and church officials “could go to the Vatican at their will” for the funeral.

One tenth of Vietnam’s 82 million people are Catholic, and Catholicism is one of six religions recognized by the officially atheist state.

Ties have warmed recently between Hanoi and the Vatican. Last year, diplomats said talks had begun on establishing formal relations.

• PLANS FOR PUBLIC VIEWING | 12:50 a.m. ET 

The cardinals who will elect the next pope are expected to meet inside the Sistine Chapel at 4 a.m. ET (10 a.m. local) to discuss funeral preparations for John Paul II.

Meanwhile, the pope's body is expected to be moved from Apostolic Palace to St. Peter's Basilica for public viewing late Monday morning.

• A THIRD-WORLD POPE? | 11:15 p.m. ET 

The possibility that the next pope could come from Latin America, Africa or Asia is creating a buzz from Mexico City to Manila, from Tegucigalpa to Kinshasa. Many Latin American Catholics said the only way to improve on a papacy they overwhelmingly supported would be to select someone from their own ranks.

Their hopes were fueled by the last papal conclave, in which a Polish archbishop became the first non-Italian pope in 455 years, as well as by the global outreach John Paul II made the cornerstone of his papacy. They also have been boosted by sheer numbers: Half the world’s 1 billion Roman Catholics live in Latin America alone, and the church is seeing explosive growth in Africa and Asia.

Even outside Roman Catholicism, leaders from the developing world saw a chance for change.

“We hope that perhaps the cardinals when they meet will follow the first non-Italian pope by electing the first African pope,” Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu said Sunday from Cape Town, South Africa.

Many Catholics in poor countries said a pope from their own regions would better understand the challenges they face, and would make the church more relevant in the lives of its increasingly diverse followers.

“It will further help the church, whose membership is growing fastest in Asia, Africa and Latin America, if a new pope emerges from one of those areas,” said Isidore Chukwuemeka, a Catholic in Lagos, Nigeria. “That will help build loyalty in the universal church and reassure people that the rich countries are not calling the shots.”

• POPE’S LAST MINUTES | 8:30 p.m. ET 

In his last minutes, Pope John Paul II stared from his bed at the window of his airy, sparsely furnished Vatican bedroom, looking toward the crowd gathered below in St. Peter’s Square and whispered “Amen,” according to accounts of the pontiff’s last moments.

While the Vatican has not confirmed either story or given its own version of John Paul’s final words, two accounts claim the pope’s last utterance was “Amen,” the traditional close of a prayer. Amen is Hebrew for “may it be so.” It was not clear, however, if the story originated from more than one source.

The Rev. David O’Connell, president of Catholic University in Washington, D.C., told CNN on Sunday that a cardinal, a friend whom he did not identify by name, recounted that just before the pope died at 9:37 p.m. Saturday he grasped the hand of his long-serving private secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz.

“And looking out the window, the curtains were not drawn, he was looking out the window. And he said, ’Amen.’ And then he passed on — beautiful, touching communication, a sense that it was finished, it was over,” O’Connell said.

The Italian newspaper La Repubblica quoted the Rev. Jarek Cielecki, a Polish priest, as saying that the 84-year-old pope raised his right hand as if to offer a blessing to those reciting the rosary in the square.

“Once the faithfuls’ prayer ended the pope made a huge effort and pronounced the word ’Amen,”’ he said. “An instant later he died.”

• INFLUX OF PILGRIMS | 6 p.m. ET 

In Rome, officials were scrambling for a huge influx of pilgrims — up to 2 million of them — seeking to pay final respects to Pope John Paul II.

The College of Cardinals — the red-capped “princes of the church” who now officially govern the 1 billion-strong Roman Catholic Church — was to hold its first meeting Monday, a pre-conclave gathering expected to plan and set a date for the funeral later this week at St. Peter’s Square.

President Bush was expected to attend the funeral, which will draw other world leaders as well as Vatican hierarchy and ordinary faithful.

• MOURNING IN MIDEAST | 4:10 p.m. ET

Israelis and Arabs united in mourning on Sunday for Pope John Paul, hailing him as a man of peace who sought to heal ancient wounds and forge a brighter future for the Middle East.

At the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the traditional birthplace of Jesus, the faithful lit candles next to a portrait of the pope. Worshippers in Nazareth, the Galilee town where Jesus grew to manhood, filled the Basilica of the Annunciation.

In Jerusalem, hundreds of worshippers chanting hymns marched by candlelight in the pouring rain through the old walled city to Gethsemane, the site where Jesus was believed to have been arrested before his crucifixion.

For Israelis, two images stand out: the pope's pilgrimage to Yad Vashem, Israel's memorial to the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust, and his prayer at Jerusalem's Western Wall for forgiveness for historical Christian mistreatment of Jews.

Michel Sabbah, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, said the pope, who visited a Palestinian refugee camp near Bethlehem five years ago, had shown that "respect for human dignity" was fundamental to resolving the Middle East conflict.

Lebanon, which has more than a million Catholics, most of them Maronites, declared three days of official mourning.

In the mountains of northern Iraq, followers of the ancient Chaldean Christian sect, watched over by guards armed with AK-47 assault rifles, gathered for Mass to mourn the pope.

• REFORM GROUPS QUESTION PAPAL LEGACY | 2:45 p.m. ET

As world leaders hailed Pope John Paul II as a force for peace, Catholic reformers critical of his traditionalist stand on church dogma took issue with his 26-year papacy.

"His pontificate was full of contradictions," We Are Church, an international network of groups aimed at reforming the Roman Catholic Church, said in a statement. "John Paul II was an advocate of human rights in secular life, but he did not apply this belief to the church itself."

"Among the human rights still crying out for recognition in the church are: gender equality — including women's ordination, the right of priests to marry ... the right to be respected for one's sexual orientation and the moral adulthood of the laity in decisions regarding reproduction and the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV-AIDS," We Are Church said.

"The pedophilia scandal exposed a major breach of human rights in the life of the Church generally. Although John Paul II ultimately recognized it as a scandal, this scandal needed much stronger action at a much earlier time," it said.

Church reform groups also criticized the way the pope centralized decision-making in the Vatican and let its bureaucracy, the Curia, discipline critical theologians.

"The Catholic church has unquestionably been helped by his strength and deep personal piety, but some of its energy and creativity have also been limited by the authoritative culture of the Vatican during recent decades," said Linda Pieczynski, spokeswoman for Call to Action, the largest U.S. Catholic reform group.

• AFRICANS ON A NEW POPE | 1:30 p.m. ET

Some churchmen say the developing world should provide the next pope, and a Nigerian cardinal, Francis Arinze, is among potential successors.

But in Nigeria's southeast, Arinze's home region, Catholics don't have high hopes of seeing the first African pope.

"I doubt if world politics will allow a black man to be pope," said Peter Nwokike, a worshipper in the state of Enugu.

"If the Nigerian has the right profile, then why not?" said Angolan student Joao Manuel.

"For now, I think it's still a utopia," said Eugenie Rokhaya Aw in Senegal's capital, Dakar.

• IN BRAZIL, MIXED FEELINGS | 12:22 p.m. ET

Amid the mourning and words of praise, Brazilians also are remembering Pope John Paul for his battle to impose conservative morals that many feel are at odds with the country's social reality.

Be it on contraception or Marxist theology, the church is often at odds with the government and even its own faithful in Brazil, home to the world's largest Roman Catholic population.

"I think this pope had some contradictory dimensions. To the outside, he was open and progressive. But inward, he was very rigid, very conservative, and for some doctrines, too strict," says Leonardo Boff, a theologian and former priest who was forced out of the priesthood for his liberal politics.

The Brazilian church backed pro-democracy protests that helped end a military dictatorship in 1985 and has been outspoken in the fight against poverty. But the pope was also instrumental in quashing the Marxist-tinged "liberation theology" of the 1970s and 1980s that called on the church to defend the poor against repressive governments.

Most recently, the church has clashed with the government and Brazilian society over Pope John Paul's rigid ban on contraception.

• MUSLIMS EXPRESS REGRETS | 11:46 a.m. ET

Muslims praise Pope John Paul's drive to build bridges with Islam and say his death has cost both faiths a campaigner for peace and justice.

The Arab League lowers the flag over its Cairo headquarters to half-mast. League spokesman Hossam Zaki says the pope had helped avoid "unnecessary misunderstandings" between Christians and Muslims over Western government policies in the region.

The pope led a campaign over the past two decades to help turn conflict between the world's 1.1 billion Catholics and 1.2 billion Muslims into cooperation. He was the first pope to officially visit a mosque during a trip to Syria in 2001.

Muslims say the pope's support for the Palestinians and opposition to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 increased their respect for him and helped contain the idea of a "clash of civilisations" after the Sept. 11 attacks.

• AN AFRICAN POPE? | 10:33 a.m. ET

While it will be a few days before the cardinals sit down to choose John Paul’s successor, the leading South African cleric, Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, offered a suggestion on Sunday.

“(I hope the cardinals) ... will follow the first non-Italian pope by electing the first African pope,” the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner told reporters outside his home in Cape Town.

There are a number of strong African candidates, the most notable being Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria. Click here for more information on the process for electing a new pope.

• CUBAN GESTURE | 10:01 a.m. ET

In an unusual gesture for a regime that has been antipathetic if not openly hostile toward the Catholic Church, Fidel Castro declares three days of official mourning.

In a letter to the Vatican published Sunday on the front page of Juventud Rebelde newspaper, Castro calls the pope’s passing “sad news” and expresses “the most heartfelt condolences of the Cuban people and government.”

“Humanity will preserve an emotional memory of the tireless work of His Holiness John Paul II in favor of peace, justice and solidarity among all people,” Castro writes.

The Cuban leader also highlighted the pope’s historic January 1998 visit to the island, saying it will remain “engraved in the memory of our nation as a transcendent moment in relations between the Vatican State and the Republic of Cuba.

• POPE'S AILMENTS | 9:15 a.m. ET

The death certificate gives the most extensive details yet on the pope’s range of medical ailments.

In addition to noting his Parkinson’s Disease, it lists other problems as episodes of acute breathing failure, resulting in a throat operation to insert a breathing tube in his windpipe; high blood pressure; lack of blood flow to the tissues and an enlarged prostate gland.

The certificate says the urinary tract infection, and resulting deadly spread of that infection to the blood, was a complication of the prostate problem.

Enlargement of the prostate is common among elderly men. The enlargement constricts the urinary tract, leading to a reduction in the flow or urine, which makes it increasingly difficult to empty the bladder. If the bladder cannot empty properly, bacteria tend to linger and multiply, increasing the risk of a urinary tract infection.

• DEATH CERTIFICATE | 8:06 a.m. ET

In a statement, the Vatican says that John Paul died of septic shock and cardio-circulatory collapse.

The official death certificate lists the ailments the 84-year-old pope suffered from, including acknowledging officially for the first time that John Paul had Parkinson's disease.

• ON DISPLAY | 7:25 a.m. ET

Extraordinary images are provided by Vatican TV of Pope John Paul II’s body lying in state in the Apostolic Palace.

The late pontiff is shown clad in crimson vestments, his head covered with a white bishop’s miter.

The powerful pictures give the world its first glimpse of John Paul since his last public appearance Wednesday.

• PONTIFF'S BODY TO GO ON DISPLAY | 6:27 a.m. ET

The Vatican says Pope John Paul II's body will go on display shortly at the Apostolic Palace.

• 'JOHN PAUL THE GREAT' | 6:05 a.m. ET

The written text of Cardinal Angelo Sodano's Sunday homily called the late pope "John Paul the Great," a title usually designated for popes worthy of sainthood, such as Gregory the Great and Leo the Great. But Sodano didn't use the title when he delivered the homily, and there was no explanation, the Associated Press reported.

• NATIONAL MOURNING IN PHILIPPINES | 5:43 a.m. ET

Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, praising the pope as "a holy champion of the Filipino family and of profound Christian values," called for national mourning until the pope was buried and ordered government offices to fly the flag at half-mast.

• PRAYING FOR JOHN PAUL | 5:07 a.m. ET

Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, celebrated Mass for the repose of Pope John Paul II's soul on the steps of St. Peter's Basilica, calling on the tens of thousands of people gathered there to pray for "our beloved John Paul."

"We entrust with confidence to the risen Christ, Lord of life and history, our beloved John Paul II who for 27 years guided the universal church as the successor of Peter," he said.

• SPECIAL MASS | 4:35 a.m. ET

Services honoring Pope John Paul II are under way at St. Peter's Basilica.

• POPE'S FINAL WORD | 4:23 a.m. ET

Some Italian newspapers are reporting that John Paul II's last word was "amen."

• CROWDS FLOCK TO VATICAN | 3:29 a.m. ET

Officials estimated early Sunday that the crowd in and around St. Peter’s had swelled to about 100,000.

The city transport system said it was increasing service on bus and subway lines stopping at St. Peter’s. Some city buses began skipping intermediate stops to rush pilgrims straight from Rome’s main train station to St. Peter’s Square.

In John Paul’s native Poland, the national carrier LOT said its Rome-bound flights were nearly full for Sunday and Monday, and that every second or third call was from someone looking to book a flight to Rome.

Special Sunday services are scheduled to begin at 4:30 a.m. ET.

• MEXICAN SOCCER GAMES CANCELED | 3:04 a.m. ET

The Mexican soccer federation announced that it would postpone two soccer games previously scheduled for Sunday, the day a Mass was to be held for the pope in St. Peter’s Square in Rome.

• LATIN AMERICA MOURNS POPE | 1:05 a.m. ET

Hundreds of thousands of people in heavily Roman Catholic Latin America gathered at neighborhood parishes and in city squares Saturday to lament the pope's death.

Cathedral bells rang out from Mexico to Argentina, calling saddened worshippers to special Masses in memory of the Spanish-speaking pope.

In Mexico City, which John Paul chose for the first foreign trip of his papacy in 1979, about 200 people gathered at the base of a bronze statue of the pope at the Basilica of Guadalupe, crying, clapping, clutching rosaries and chanting: “John Paul II, the whole world loves you!”

• CHINESE CATHOLICS REACH OUT | 11:34 p.m. ET

Chinese Catholics, long forbidden by their Communist rulers from recognizing the Holy See, mourned Pope John Paul II on Sunday and sent a commemorative telegram to the Vatican.

Beijing officially only allows worshippers to belong to state-sanctioned churches, prompting many Catholics loyal to the Vatican to worship underground.

China broke ties with the Vatican in the 1950s after expelling foreign clergy and all religion was devastated during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution. The Holy See recognizes Beijing's diplomatic rival, Taiwan.

But state television announced the Pope's death and the official Xinhua news agency reported the sending of the telegram to Rome "on behalf of more than 5 million Catholics in the country."

"This morning, we phoned leading groups of all provinces and autonomous regions, asking them to arrange some special service for the Pope that he may lay at rest in the arms of God," Liu Bainian, vice chairman of the Catholic Patriotic Association of China said. He said he thought there would be a service to mourn his passing.

• VATICAN PLANS SUNDAY MASS | 10 p.m. ET

The Vatican is planning several special Sunday services.

Cardinal Angelo Sodano will lead the Repose of the Soul of the Holy Father in St. Peter's Square at 4:30 a.m. ET (10:30 a.m. local time).

Other prayers were to be held at 6 a.m. ET (12:30 p.m. local time).

IN ASIA, SUNDAY SERVICES MOURN LOSS | 9:30 p.m. ET

In the Philippines, Asia's largest Catholic country, people grieved in churches and in private for a pope who visited twice and inspired a return to democracy when huge protests swelled to chase out dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.

"He was the voice and conscience of truth," Gaudencio Rosales, the Archbishop of Manila, told 1,000 solemn worshippers at the small Divine Mercy Shrine. "He spoke on issues that he believed in — especially life, justice, compassion and love."

Priests planned to plant 84 seedlings at a Manila park, to be renamed the John Paul Forest, to mark the pontiff's age.

• NEWLY NAMED BISHOP WEIGHS IN | 8:45 p.m. ET

"This pope will go down as John Paul the Great," said the Archbishop of Accra, Charles Palmer-Buckle, one of the bishops promoted on March 30 in John Paul's last round of appointments.

"With him, there were no shades of gray. It was either black or white, especially in the area of morality."

The Pope's opposition to the use of condoms in the continent worst hit by AIDS generated criticism, particularly by Western health campaigners. But his preference for abstinence as a solution has been echoed by some African governments.

ROME PREPARES FOR INFLUX OF PILGRIMS | 8:26 p.m. ET

Rome is preparing extra trains, fresh water supplies and thousands of beds in expectation that the death of Pope John Paul II will spur one of the greatest influxes of pilgrims in its memory.

For the Pope's funeral alone, officials are reported to be expecting at least 2 million people to cram into Rome's cobbled streets.

To help house the visitors, at least three sports venues, including Rome's Olympic Stadium, will be opened. Transport officials have pledged extra trains, buses and makeshift parking lots to try to ease Rome's already chaotic traffic system. Meanwhile, hundreds of voluntary staff and sanitation crews have been drafted in to build makeshift toilets and drinking fountains.

• POWELL ‘TOUCHED BY HIS HUMANITY’ | 7:00 p.m. ET

Former U.S. Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell issued a statement on the death of the pope:

“I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of His Holiness John Paul, II. I met His Holiness on a number of occasions and never failed to be touched by his humanity and his Godliness. He touched millions of people around the world with his message of hope and reconciliation and his constant call for peace.”

• HAVANA MAKES WAY FOR MOURNING | 6:15 p.m. ET

Cuba announced it would suspend Saturday’s scheduled Game 2 of the national baseball playoffs and all cultural activities on Sunday. The Cuban Council of State was expected to announce an official three days of mourning, NBC News reported from Havana.

Church bells in the Communist nation rang every half hour for the pope as authorities allowed Catholics to grieve.

John Paul was the only pontiff to set foot on the island and his 1998 visit brought greater religious freedom, in the West’s last Marxist state.


• CALIFORNIA CATHOLICS REMEMBER | 6:00 p.m. ET

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, archbishop of Los Angeles, addressed Catholics on the death of the pontiff, recalling a visit to Los Angeles by Pope John Paul II in 1987, which included a Mass led by the pontiff in Dodger Stadium.

"The pope spoke directly to the wondrous ethnic diversity of Southern California in his homily at Dodger Stadium, and called us to a deeper unity and harmony among all peoples here," Mahony said.

"Some have already dubbed him "John Paul the Great." Of his innumerable achievements, many will remember his indefatigable energy in travel, his longevity, or the canonization of so many saints during his pontificate," he said. "Others will focus on his role in bringing down the Iron Curtain. Only the perspective of time, distance, and historical reflection will allow the greatness of this life and legacy to be measured."

• PUBLIC VIEWING | 5:45 p.m. ET

The pope's body was expected to be brought to St. Peter's Basilica, where it will lie in state, sometime late Monday, the Vatican said early Sunday.

The statement said the College of Cardinals would meet at 10 a.m. Monday in its first gathering before a secret election to be held later this month to choose a successor to John Paul.

The cardinals were expected to set a date for his funeral.

• FUNERAL ARRANGEMENTS | 4:42 p.m. ET

The Roman Catholic Church has just entered the interregnum, the period after a pope dies and before another ascends the throne.

In that period, the pontiff’s body will lie in state, his funeral will be held and cardinals will gather for the conclave, the closed-door meeting to elect his successor.

Meantime, cardinals across the world already are making their travel plans for the conclave, where they make what is likely to be their most important decision as “Princes of the Church.”

And given the long tenure of John Paul, many will be voting for a new pope for the first time.

• BUSH REACTS | 4:10 p.m. ET

President George W. Bush hailed the John Paul on Saturday as a wise and fearless leader whose moral authority helped a democratic revolution sweep through Eastern Europe.

“The Catholic Church has lost its shepherd, the world has lost a champion of human freedom, and a good and faithful servant of God has been called home,” a somber Bush said in the White House residence, his wife, Laura, at his side.

John Paul, he said, was “a hero for the ages.”

The White House said it was waiting to hear from the Vatican on Sunday about funeral arrangements before announcing the U.S. delegation that will travel to the event.

• REACTION POURING IN | 3:40 p.m. ET

"The angels welcome you," Vatican TV said after the announcement came from papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls, while shortly afterwards bells tolled in St. Peter’s Square.

Meantime, reaction came pouring in from across the world.

Poland’s Lech Walesa: “[Without him] There would be no end of Communism or at least much later and the end would have been bloody.”

Israel’s Shimon Peres: “Even though he represented Catholicism, he managed, with his talent and personality, to also represent our entire global partnership.”

Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque: “ We will never forget the pope's visit to Cuba in 1998... his words for peace... his courtesy to president Fidel Castro when he visited the Vatican (in 1997)."

• THE POPE IS DEAD | 3:12 p.m. ET

Pope John Paul II has died. The news was conveyed in an e-mail to the world's media by papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls. The message was simple, "The Holy Father died this evening at 9:37 p.m. (2:37 p.m. EST) in his private apartment."

• CONDITION MAY NOT BE WORSENING | 1:44 p.m. ET

Dr. Peter Salgo, associate director of the intensive care unit at New York Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, tells the Associated Press that the reference to fever in the latest Vatican statement doesn’t necessarily indicate that the pope’s condition is worsening.

"This is not a turn for the better, but it doesn't mean he's getting worse," he is quoted as saying. "Fevers come and go and it is often the last thing to go away when you get over an infection. You can still have a fever in response to antibiotics."

• FUNERAL PLANNING |1:17 p.m. ET

New signs that a major funeral is imminent are being seen in Rome, as the city makes plans to accommodate tens of thousands of pilgrims expected to descend on the Vatican in the coming days.

Portable toilets and extra ambulances appeared in greater numbers near the Vatican during the day Saturday and the city transport system said it was increasing service on bus and subway lines which stop at St. Peter’s, the Associated Press reported.

City officials also lined up fairground pavilions and sport stadiums to house the faithful, and the Italian state railway said it would add additional trains to bring pilgrims to Rome.

• VATICAN UPDATE | 12:23 p.m. ET

In a written statement, the Vatican says Pope John Paul II remains in very grave condition with a high fever, but that he continues to respond "correctly" when addressed by aides.

• STATEMENT ON CONDITION RESCHEDULED | 11:40 a.m. ET

A Vatican spokesman says the statement on the pope's medical condition will now be issued approximately 12:10 p.m. ET.

• VATICAN STATEMENT DELAYED | 11:25 a.m. ET

The Associated Press reports that the Vatican's statement on the pope's medical condition, originally expected around 11 a.m. ET,  has been delayed. There is no immediate word on when the announcement will be made.

• BUSH: POPE ‘AN INSPIRATION’ | 10:14 a.m. ET

President Bush calls Pope John Paul II was “a faithful servant of God and a champion of human dignity and freedom.”

“He is an inspiration to us all,” Bush says in his weekly radio address. “Laura and I join millions of Americans and so many around the world who are praying for the Holy Father.”

The president has received regular briefings about the pontiff’s condition since the pope’s health began deteriorating Thursday.

• VATICAN ANNOUNCEMENT EXPECTED | 9:06 a.m. ET

Networks are told to expect another update on the pope's medical condition by Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls at approximately 11 a.m. ET.

• STAGE IN ST. PETER'S SQUARE DISMANTLED | 8:04 a.m. ET

In a sign the Vatican was preparing for a funeral, workers dismantle a semi-permanent stage in St. Peter's Square. For the funeral of the last pope in 1978, that space was occupied by a relatively small altar.

• ITALY SUSPENDS ALL WEEKEND SPORTS | 7:01 a.m. ET

Italy's highest sport authority announces the suspension of all weekend sport events as a sign of respect for the pope.

Gianni Petrucci, president of Italy's Olympic Committee (CONI), made the announcement of Serie A soccer matches, a playoff deciding the Italian ice hockey title, basketball and volleyball league matches and amateur sports.

• POST OFFICE TO ISSUE SPECIAL STAMP | 6:06 a.m. ET

The Vatican post office says it will issue a special stamp when the pope dies, which can only be used until a new one is elected.

The stamps are valid for the so-called “interregnum,” the time span that begins with the death of the pope and ends when a new one is elected, but other Vatican stamps will also be valid in that period.

The last time the Vatican post office issued vacant seat stamps was 1978, when John Paul the first died.

• VATICAN BUSINESSES OPEN | 5:19 a.m. ET

While the world awaits word on the pope, Vatican businesses such as the pharmacy and post offices open to the public as usual.

Tourists wait patiently in line to go through security screening to enter the basilica — both to visit it and to pray.

Police said they expected hundreds of thousands of pilgrims to arrive in the city over the next few days.

The city transport system said it was expanding service on bus and subway lines to the Vatican. State radio said portable toilets would be installed near the square.

• OBSERVERS WATCH FOR SIGNS | 4:07 a.m. ET

Over the centuries, the most traditional and telling signal that a pope has died has been the tolling of the Vatican’s bells, which prompts churches across Rome to join in. Other signs include the closing of the massive bronze portal beneath a portico off St. Peter’s and drawn shutters in the pontiff’s apartment.

The modern use of Bronze Door is spotty. In 1978, when two popes died in rapid succession, the tradition was ignored. Under normal circumstances, the Bronze Door is closed every night at around 8 p.m. and reopened in the morning. The doors reopened early Saturday.

And papal observers say it’s not clear whether the shutting of the door even in daytime would precede or follow an official announcement. The door remains closed until a new pontiff is elected.

• VATICAN TO ISSUE BRIEFING SOON | 3:20 a.m. ET

The Vatican announces it will issue a new briefing at 4:30 a.m. ET.

• POPE CONSCIOUS, SOURCES SAY | 3:08 a.m. ET

A Polish priest, citing Vatican sources, says the pope is in stable condition and has not lost consciousness.

"I have information from the Vatican from a half an hour ago. The Pope is in serious, but stable condition. The Pope has not lost consciousness," Father Konrad Hejmo, a close friend of the Pope's, tells Reuters.

RUMORS OF VATICAN STATEMENT | 2:42 a.m. ET

Word of a possible statement from the Vatican at 3 a.m. ET is coming from a Romania-based TV station. NBC News has been unable to confirm the report. The press office reopened at 2 a.m. ET.

WELL-WISHES FROM CHINA | 1:01 a.m. ET

China, which does not allow its Catholics to recognize the Vatican's authority, expressed concern for Pope John Paul II after a small group of local religious leaders and worshippers prayed for the pontiff.

"China expresses its concern and hopes the Pope can get meticulous medical treatment, recover and restore his health," a Foreign Ministry spokesman told Reuters by telephone.

• VATICAN PRESS OFFICE CLOSES | 12:14 a.m. ET

The Vatican press office, which stayed open throughout the night as several hundred people remained in St. Peter's Square to pray for the ailing pope, closed around 10 p.m. ET. The office was to open again at 3 a.m. ET.

'SERENELY CARRYING THE CROSS' | 10:51 p.m. ET

The pope's decision to remain at the Vatican rather than return to the hospital has become a source of reflection for many of those following the pontiff's medical struggle.

“The fact that he has not gone back to hospital (means) that he is serenely carrying the cross and ready to give up and to say, ‘It is finished,’” said Irish Bishop John Magi, who served as the pope's private secretary from 1978 to 1982.

“The pope has decided to die at home ... not fitted with tubes (but) facing death in front of the tomb of St. Peter,” said a front-page commentary Saturday in the newspaper La Repubblica.

• A QUIET NIGHT | 9:35 p.m. ET

As the night wears on, the crowds in St. Peter's Square thin.

• CUBANS LEARN OF POPE'S CONDITION | 9:10 p.m. ET

In a rare TV appearance, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the top Roman Catholic prelate in Cuba, tells Cubans that the pope is dying. Ortega is rarely seen in the island’s media, which are run by Cuba’s nonreligious government.

• CREDIT FOR ENDING COMMUNISM | 8:35 p.m. ET

Lech Walesa, founder of the Solidarity movement that toppled communism in Poland in 1989-90, tells The Associated Press that without the pope’s leadership, “communism would have fallen, but much later and in a bloody way.”

• STANDING VIGIL | 7:40 p.m. ET

Wrapping themselves in blankets, many tearfully gaze at John Paul’s third-floor windows, where the lights remain on in the pope’s studio and his secretary’s room. The papal bedroom is not lit.

• "LONG AGONY" | 6:51 p.m. ET

The Rome newspaper La Repubblica quotes Vatican officials as saying the pope is "living a long agony" and that his strong will could draw out his death, which should not be expected "at any determined time."

• JEWISH WISHES | 6:35 p.m. ET

Rome's chief rabbi says he is praying in the piazza outside the pope's residence "as a sign of sharing in the grief of our brothers for their concerns and as a sign of warmth for this pope and for all that he has done."

• CROWD GROWS | 5:30 p.m. ET

As Friday turns into Saturday in Rome, police estimate that the gathering of worshipers in St. Peter's Square has grown past 70,000. The two windows of John Paul's apartment light up an otherwise darkened Apostolic Palace.

• PREDICTION OF DEATH | 4:45 p.m. ET

Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, the Vatican's health minister, tells Mexico's Televisa dal Vaticano that the pope is "on the verge of death."

• POSSIBLE SUCCESSOR HEADS TO ROME | 3:52 p.m. ET

NBC News reports that Cardinal Francis Arinze, the Nigerian cardinal viewed as one of the leading candidates to succeed Pope John Paul II, left Newark, N.J., where he was visiting, for Rome on Thursday. 

• U.S. MASSES PLANNED | 3:50 p.m. ET

Cardinals Edward Egan of New York and Roger Mahony of Los Angeles prepare to celebrate special Masses this evening in the event of the pope's death.

• VATICAN STATEMENT PLANNED |  3:40 p.m. ET

The Vatican says it will issue a statement shortly.

• VATICAN DENIAL |  1:55 p.m. ET

The Vatican denies reports that Pope John Paul II has died.

• PRAYERS AROUND THE WORLD | 1:08 p.m. ET

Millions around the world are praying for the pope.

In Wadowice, Poland, people are leaving school and work early and heading to church to pray for their native son. "I want him to hold on, but it is all in God's hands now," Elzbieta Galuszko, 64, says at the church where the pope was baptized in Wadowice, in the south. "We can only pray for him so he can pull through these difficult moments."

In the Philippines, a crying Linda Nicol says she and her husband are asking God to grant John Paul "a longer life." Muslims in France are praying for the pontiff because he is a "man of peace," says Dalil Boubakeur, president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith.

• BUSH PRAYING | 1:03 p.m. ET

Press secretary Scott McClellan says that the White House is in close contact with the Vatican about the pope's failing health and that President Bush is praying for him. Chief of staff Andrew Card is keeping Bush up to date on the pope's condition.

"The president and Mrs. Bush join people all across the world who are praying for the Holy Father. He's in our thoughts and prayers," McClellan tells reporters.

"The outpouring of love across the world is a testimony to the greatness of the pope. The pope is an inspiration to millions of Americans and people all over the world for his great moral leadership," McClellan says.

• POPE UNCONSCIOUS? | 12:46 p.m. ET

Italy's APCom news agency, without citing sources, is reporting that the pope is unconscious. Vatican officials are not immediately available for comment. Earlier, the Vatican had denied another report by the same agency that claimed the pontiff had slipped into a coma.

• POPE OPENED EYES EARLIER | 12:23 p.m. ET

Among the top church officials gathering at the pope's bedside is Cardinal Marcio Francesco Pompedda, a high-ranking Vatican administrator, who says the pope opened his eyes and smiled.

"I understood he recognized me. It was a wonderful smile — I'll remember it forever. It was a benevolent smile, a father-like smile," Pompedda tells RAI television. "I also noticed that he
wanted to tell me something but he could not. ... But what impressed me very much was his expression of serenity."

• HOPE FADING? | 12:21 p.m. ET

Ansa News Agency is reporting that medical sources are saying there is no more hope for the pope.

• BUSH IN WHITE HOUSE | 12:09 p.m. ET

NBC News White House Correspondent Norah O'Donnell reports that President Bush is in the Oval Office monitoring the situation with his senior staff.

• MEDICAL UPDATE | 12:04 p.m. ET

Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls releases the following medical bulletin:

"The general conditions and cardiocirculatory conditions of the Holy Father have further worsened. A gradual worsening of arterial hypotension has been noted and breathing has become shallow. The clinical picture indicates cardiocirculatory and renal insufficiency.

"The biological parameters are notably compromised. The Holy Father — with visible participation — is joining in the continual prayers of those assisting him."

• 'SHALLOW' BREATHING | 11:59 a.m. ET

The Vatican issues a statement saying the pope's condition has worsened. His breathing "has become shallow" and his kidney function is deteriorating.

• 'VERY GRAVE' | 11:30 a.m. ET

"Yesterday afternoon ... following a urinary infection, a state of septic shock and cardio-circulatory collapse set in," a Vatican statement says. "This morning, the Holy Father's health condition is very grave."

• PRAYING FOR THE POPE | 11:15 a.m. ET

Hundreds of anxious faithful gather outside St. Peter's Basilica in silent prayer as news spreads that the pope's health has abruptly deteriorated. Poles stream into churches to pray for the pope, their revered countryman who appears on the threshold of death. Millions of Roman Catholics in Asia pack churches and hold vigils.

• CONSCIOUS AND STABLE | 11:00 a.m. ET

Pope John Paul II is conscious and his condition is stable, but his blood pressure is unstable and he continues to have breathing problems.

The Vatican dismisses as "rubbish" Italian media reports that the pope has slipped into a coma.

NBC News, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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