The Pope, pictured during the 2003 World Youth Day celebrations in St Peter's Square, was the most widely-travelled pontiff in history and had headed the world's 1.1 billion Catholics for 26 years
Photo: © AFP
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A very different scene at St Peter's Square moments before John Paul's death was announced to thousands of the faithful who had gathered there to pray for him over recent days
Photo: © AFP

3 APRIL 2005

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"Our Holy Father John Paul has returned to the house of the Father."

With these words, Archbishop Leonardo Sandri informed the world of the death of 84-year-old the Pope II, who passed away in his private apartment within the Vatican at 9.37pm on April 2, after 26 years at the head of the Catholic Church.

The sombre communiqué, accompanied by the sound of the Basilica's bells ringing out in lament, was made to crowds of the faithful who had crammed St Peter's Square in Rome over recent days to pray for the Polish-born Pope.

A sufferer of Parkinson's disease for the last decade, John Paul had been in increasingly poor health since the beginning of this year, and the end was imminently expected after Thursday's announcement that he had suffered septic shock and a cardio-circulatory collapse following a urinary tract infection.

Around the globe, Catholics gathered in streets and squares on Saturday evening to mourn the death of the holy man known as the 'Great Communicator'. They stood holding candles, knelt in prayer, or simply wept.

U.S. President George Bush honoured John Paul as a "champion of human freedom", while British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the world had lost a religious leader who was "revered across people of all faiths and none."

Three days of mourning have been announced, and it is thought that the funeral could take place on Friday. The Pope will probably be laid to rest under St Peter's Basilica. Within the next 15-20 days, the selection procedure for his successor will begin among over 100 cardinals gathered at the Sistine Chapel.