Suffering Pope Fights High Fever, Infection

By Philip Pullella and Crispian Balmer
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - A frail and pained Pope John Paul was battling on Friday against a fever and urinary infection, raising fears around the Roman Catholic world that his historic papacy might be nearing an end.

Italian media said the 84-year-old Pontiff had received the sacrament for the sick and dying commonly known as the Last Rites. It is given to the very seriously ill but does not necessarily mean death is imminent.
As dawn approached on Friday, a Polish priest at the Vatican said the Pontiff's health was stabilising thanks to antibiotics administered to tame the potentially lethal infection.
Medical sources said the next 24 hours could prove crucial, adding that his condition was precarious.
"He's ill, very ill," an unnamed medical source was quoted as saying by Italy's Ansa news agency on Friday.
The Pope, who is struggling to recover from throat surgery and has been sick for most of the past two months, was not taken to hospital despite the gravity of the situation. One media report said he was too frail to be moved.
"Pope Wojtyla at the end of his life," Il Giornale newspaper said in a banner front-page headline on Friday.
Doctors stayed at the Pontiff's bedside into the early hours of Friday morning as hundreds of faithful gathered in St Peter's Square to pray for the man who has led the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics for the past 26 years.
"The Holy Father was today stricken by a very high fever provoked by what has been ascertained to be an infection of the urinary tract," a Vatican statement said late on Thursday, adding he was receiving "appropriate antibiotic therapy."
Father Konrad Hejmo, who is in charge of Polish pilgrims to the Vatican and has close ties to the Pontiff's inner circle, told reporters early on Friday that the treatment was working.
"The Pope's health is stabilising," he said, adding that the Pontiff had lost some 42 lb following the Feb. 24 throat surgery, weakening his defenses against infections.
Doctors inserted a feeding tube into the Pope's stomach on Wednesday in an attempt to boost his fading strength.
Italian media reported that his temperature leapt to around 104 F on Thursday afternoon, bringing doctors rushing to his bedside.
Shortly before reports of the illness broke, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, the Archbishop of Vienna, told the Austrian news agency APA that the Pope was "approaching, as far as a person can tell, the end of his life."
Medical experts said the Pope's infection may have spread to his bloodstream, adding that this could prove fatal given the fact that he is a long-time sufferer of Parkinson's disease.
"When someone has advanced Parkinson's disease they're at risk from opportunistic infections because of their debilitated condition," said Dr David Charles, a neurologist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

"Most die from some other acute condition, whether pneumonia or a urinary tract infection," Charles said.
Television stations in John Paul's native Poland interrupted their normal programing to tell people of the condition of their most famous native son, a man Poles credit with helping them shake off communism in 1989.
In Rome, hundreds of people, some with tears in their eyes, rushed to the Vatican to pray below the Pope's windows.
"We heard the news, and we're here to pray. We feel we need to be close to the Pope right now," said Sister Antonia.
The Pontiff received the Last Rites once before, in 1981, after being shot by a would-be assassin.
The third longest-serving pope in Roman Catholic history spent 28 days in Rome's Gemelli Hospital in two periods in February and March after suffering breathing crises.
Once dubbed the "Great Communicator," the Pope has been unable to speak in public since he last left hospital on March 13, with a tube to help him breathe inserted in his windpipe.
The feeding tube was added on Wednesday because the Parkinson's disease was making it difficult for him to swallow and he was becoming increasingly weak.
Historians say one of the Pope's major legacies will remain his role in the fall of communism in Europe in 1989.
Just over a decade later, the Pope fulfilled another of his dreams. He visited the Holy Land in March 2000, and, praying at Jerusalem's Western Wall, asked forgiveness for Catholic sins against Jews over the centuries.
A tireless traveler, hailed as "God's Athlete," he has clocked up some 775,000 miles in 104 foreign trips to some 130 countries.
He has seemed as much at ease lecturing dictators of the left and the right as he has telling leaders of world democracies that unbridled capitalism and globalization are no panacea for the world's post-Cold War problems.
Critics, however, have attacked his traditionalist stance on family issues, such as his condemnation of contraception.
A former actor who wrote several plays, John Paul has used his mastery of timing, levity and languages to communicate as few other modern world figures have done.
(Additional reporting by Phil Stewart in the Vatican City and Andrew Stern in Chicago)

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