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Pilgrims Hold Vigil, Wait Word Of Pope's Condition; Massive Insurgent Attack Repelled At Abu Ghraib Prison;

Aired April 2, 2005 - 14:00   ET


JONATHAN MANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR (voice-over): Some of the people who gathered in St. Peter's Square in Rome, some of the many around the world who are waiting for word about the fate of Pope John Paul II.
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR (voice-over): Catholics around the world praying for a man that's led them for 26 years plus.

(on camera) Hello, and welcome to our continuing coverage of the pope and his deteriorating health. Catholics around the world praying for Pope John Paul II.

MANN: I'm Jonathan Mann at the CNN center welcoming our viewers in the United States and around the world.

VERJEE: I'm Zain Verjee. His condition is said to be irreversible. His 26 years in the Vatican coming to an end. John Paul is the focus of worldwide prayer by Roman Catholics and others.

Bill Neely has the latest developments from Rome.


BILL NEELY, ITV NEWS (voice-over): Inside the Vatican, in the church of the first pope, St. Peter, they pray for Pope John Paul who lay dying not far away. They pray for an end to his suffering which has transfixed them, and many of the billion Catholics around the world.

Outside in the square, they sang and prayed. A vigil by day and night, a public ritual of symbol and sympathy which vast crowds are being drawn to, the end of a man and an era.

There are thousands of people arriving all the time. But the atmosphere here is very calm, very quiet. The crowd here and the world watching those windows up there above the square. The pope's bedroom, curtained and closed now for the past 24 hours. Inside, the pope dying slowly.

Today from his spokesman, another gloomy medical bulletin of papal decline. At dawn, he says, the pope began losing consciousness. Mass was said in his presence, but he did not take part. This cardinal was among the very few who sat at the pope's bedside in the last day.

CARDINAL EDMUND SZOKA, VATICAN CITY GOVERNOR: When he saw me, with his eyes and bowing his head, I knew he immediately recognized me and was trying to greet me. So I knelt down alongside of him by the bed, and I kissed his hand and held his hand. But he was having extreme difficulty breathing. His breathing was very, very labored. And it was very sad for me to see him that way. It must have been terrible suffering to have to keep sort of gasping for breath.

NEELY: The pope's condition has worsened since then. The Swiss guard wait by the gate they will shut, when he dies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've cried quite a few times. It's like an emotional turmoil, because you -- one moment it's a sense of great sadness, and then at the second moment you sort of look and say, what is he saying to us, what is he teaching us in this moment.

NEELY: They have traveled from all over for the most traveled pope in history.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This pope has traveled everywhere. He's touched more people than you can imagine. And it's time for us to come and be with him.

NEELY: But he will travel no more. One window was open today, but it's air the pope can hardly breathe. A polish flag below he did not see. He will not be moved from here. The public is saying good- bye. "Ciao Karol," say the headlines. 26 1/2 years drawing slowly to a close.

Bill Neely, ITV News at the Vatican.


MANN: In the time since that report was prepared, there has been more information from the Vatican about the pope's health. We go now to our Rome bureau chief Alessio Vinci for the latest. Alessio?

VINCI: Good evening, Jonathan. Yes, within the last few hours, we did receive an update by Dr. Joaquin Navarro-Valls, a physician himself, by profession, and also the spokesman of the Vatican and the pope himself. Navarro-Valls telling reporters through a written statement that the situation with the pope is still serious. He has developed a high fever earlier in the day. But when addressed by people within the papal household, he does respond correctly.

This information, of course, very important, because earlier in the day, this morning, when Navarro-Valls answered questions from reporters, and issued an earlier statement, he did say that the pope showed the first signs of losing consciousness. Of course, that is a very important detail that was not addressed in this latest bulletin. So, we do not know more than what the Vatican is telling us at this time. And that is, that Pope John Paul II is responding when called by people who are close to him at this time inside the apostolic palace.

Now, meanwhile, here in St. Peter's Square throughout the day, we've seen tens of thousands of people who have gathered here, who have come here to pay their last respects to Pope John Paul -- Pope John Paul II. We've seen people from all walks of life. We've met several pilgrims from Africa in particular. One group from Nigeria, who was telling us that they were here because they wanted to -- they felt fulfilled and privileged to be in this place on this day. Another one told us they were hoping to be able to see the pope one more time appearing from the window overlooking St. Peter's Square. That, of course, is not going to happen.

At this time, three senior Vatican officials, including (UNINTELLIGIBLE), are beginning a vigil in St. Peter's Square. It is a vigil organized by the Italian bishops conference, especially for the young people. And indeed, earlier today, Pope John Paul II had special words for the people who have come here to St. Peter's Square saying, I have looked for you, now you have come to me. And I say thank you. Of course, this is a way for the Vatican on behalf of the pope to thank all the pilgrims, especially the young ones who have gathered en masse here in St. Peter's Square to basically show their respect, and to pray and to chant with the pope.

The mood here is definitely a somber one, but it is also one of thankfulness. A lot of people coming here, telling us that they don't necessarily have to mourn the pope. They just want to show that they support him with their presence. And indeed, we've seen tens of thousands of people. I've been here more than 12 hours now, and it's been a constant flow of people. Mainly silent people, as you can see from the live pictures in St. Peter's Square, people who reflect about, you know, the final years of the pope. People, young people, older people. Everybody who felt that this man was not just a religious leader, but also a man who could give some ideals and a man who could in some way lead not just the Catholic world, but also other people who felt that they could trust him. This is the words of several people with whom we have spoken throughout this day here in St. Peter's Square. Jonathan?

MANN: Alessio, can you tell us more about the vigil? Vigils are -- they do have a place in the Catholic tradition. Is this something that the Vatican organizes frequently? Is it something that is typical to a time of gravity for the pope himself?

ALESSIO VINCI, CNN ROME BUREAU CHIEF: Oh, definitely. I mean, and this is, by the way, one of many vigils which are taking place not just here in Rome. This, of course, the most important one, because it is obviously held right below the window of the apostolic palace, which is the building that you can see now appearing on your screen on the right-hand side. Those two lit windows on the top floor of that building are where the pope is now being kept.

They are important, because it's a moment, if you want, a reflection of prayer. And it is a way to, as one person actually told me, to help out the Pope in his final hours in order for him to follow closeness. And the way Catholics feel closeness among each other, of course, is through prayer. And that is why this vigil has been organized by the Italian bishops conference. Jonathan?

MANN: Alessio Vinci at St. Peter's Square. Thanks very much. Zain? VERJEE: Around the world, Catholics and many non-Catholics have the pope in their thoughts and prayers. In Paris, worshippers and tourists gathered to light candles for the pope in Notre Dame. A photograph of the pope from healthier times sat at the altar. Thousands of Catholics took part in prayer vigils on Saturday in Australia; a church spokesman says the archbishop of Sydney would go to Rome. Australia's prime minister had praise for the pontiff's legacy.


JOHN HOWARD, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: I know that I speak for all Australians in expressing a very strong sense of understanding and compassion with Australia's Catholic community as his holiness the pope in failing health prepares to meet his maker. This great man has not only been an inspiring leader to the one billion Catholics around the world, he's been a great example of Christian dedication to people of all Christian denominations, and indeed, of all faiths.


VERJEE: Catholics across Africa are joining in prayers for the pope. At St. Paul's Cathedral in Lagos, Nigerians attended a special mass on Friday. Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze has been mentioned in the past as a possible successor, and small groups of worshippers attended special services in Beijing to prepare -- excuse me, pray for the pope. China broke ties with the Vatican in the 1950s, and doesn't allow Chinese Catholics to recognize papal authority.

MANN: The pride of Catholic Poland for more than two decades now, John Paul's decline is probably most keenly felt among his countrymen.

CNN's Chris Burns is in Krakow, the pontiff's adopted city. Chris?

CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jonathan, a very emotional moment now. This is another night of vigil, and this is a night where, as many people around the world, they fear that this could be the last night of Pope John Paul II's life. And we have -- I would say we're pushing about -- almost 10,000 here, not only on this square here, but also in side streets.

Now, the building in back of me, as -- before we panned away -- the archbishop's residence. That is the residence from which Pope John Paul lived before he became pope, he repeatedly came back here and spoke from that window, and sang from that window. And there intimate conversations with people here during those visits, late at night, and these people are back here to remember him, the man, of course, who helped them to shed communism and -- it's a sea of candles, a sea of flowers. The candles are decking the windowsills. There are bouquets and flowers that are just filling the entrance there.

And people all around me, some of them tearful, some of them simply resigned to the fact that their holy father is about to pass from this earth, and that they have actually been grieving for his departure for quite some time. His last visit here was back in 2002; it was also a very emotional moment here in Krakow. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps as many as two million people turned out for a huge mass where the pope really did not have all his strength there, able to complete that mass. But they were grieving already, with him, saying good-bye to him at that time. And now, a final good bye this evening, if this does turn out to be the last evening of the pope's life.

MANN: Chris Burns, in Krakow -- Zain.

VERJEE: Jonathan, the pope's health has been in serious decline for about two months. He was hospitalized after a bout of flu triggered a respiratory infection. Weeks later the pope was readmitted to the hospital where doctors performed a tracheotomy to try and relieve his breathing problems. He struggled to recover from the procedure, and on Thursday, we learned that he had developed an infection and high fever. On Friday, the Vatican confirmed that the pope's condition had worsened: his breathing became shallow, and his circulatory and kidney functions deteriorated. Then, we learned that the pope's blood pressure had become unstable. The Vatican now acknowledges that the pope has slipped in and out of consciousness.

Our medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joins me now to address the latest medical bulletin on the pope. Elizabeth, first of all, we're hearing the high fever's still there.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. We're hearing the high fever is still there. It's unclear if it was there a couple of days ago and went away and came back; it's not exactly clear how that works. But, obviously, the pope is in grave condition, and a high fever is just part of some of the many symptoms that are going on right.

Let's take a look at the past two days, at sort of the cascading events that have happened that have led to where the pope is right now. First of all, on Thursday, at 11:00 -- this is all local time to Italy -- urinary tract infection and a high fever, for which the pope was given antibiotics, and then on Friday, they said the condition had stabilized, and then later, his condition was described as very serious. It was said that he was in septic shock, and also cardio- circulatory collapse. That basically means that not enough oxygen was getting to his vital organs. And then, at 2:30 on Friday, we were told that his blood pressure was unstable yet he was still lucid.

And now, we are told -- later that evening, rather -- told that he had heart and kidney -- that his heart and kidney function was "insufficient," that was the word that was used. And now we are told that he is, in fact, coming in and out of consciousness, or as they put it, "the start of compromised consciousness," and that the high fever is there, but that he "responds correctly" when a member of his household addresses, that was the way that the Vatican put it.

But what all of this comes down to, what all of this points out, is sort of the slow decline of someone's health, the slow decline of an elderly man. He is 84 years old. His health was already compromised by Parkinson's disease. And all of these events show that decline over the past -- the extreme part of that decline -- over the past two days.

VERJEE: So, the antibiotics are not working then, if the fever's still high? Would that be a fair conclusion to draw?

COHEN: Well, it may be that they worked for a while, because we heard about the fever a couple of days and it went down. And then we heard about the fever again today, and maybe they've just begun giving antibiotics. So, it's unclear -- the timeline is not completely clear as to whether his fever went away and came back or whether it's been here all this time.

VERJEE: How long can the pope -- a person in this condition, with what we know at least, how long could he last in this condition?

COHEN: I asked several doctors that. I said to them, you know, someone who is that age, someone who has Parkinson's disease, with these specific symptoms, how long could a person last. They basically said that death could be imminent. It could be in a few minutes or it could be within a few days. So, in other words, what the doctors I've talked to have said is that it's not necessarily going to happen any minute, but certainly that within a few days that's when they would expect death to occur.

VERJEE: Elizabeth Cohen, thank you so much.

Our special coverage will continue in just a moment. Stay with us.

MANN: There's been extraordinary extraordinary openness from the Vatican throughout all of this. We'll talk to a representative of the Vatican's communications office about the pope and his legacy. Stay with us.



CHARLES SENNOTT, BOSTON GLOBE: ...very emotional time. I think what's interesting, when you walk through St. Peter's Square right now, is the sense you have of how this pope means something different to each person. This is a pope who had such a far reach in every corner of the globe, that when you go through St. Peter's Square, you get a sense of just how wide that is, of the many different issues that are dear to so many people's hearts. And a sense that he spoke to the young, and his very strong message in terms of the need for the church to be revitalized by the youth. And he also spoke to the elderly, the infirm. He spoke to families. And really, as you go down the line, I'm impressed with the very personal sense that everyone seems to have of standing vigil now in what appears to be the final hours, or final days.

MANN: There seemed to be people from just about everywhere around the world. And around the world, this pope has had such enormous influence. But it has been spread, I think it's fair to say, very unevenly. In Europe, where you now make your home, the Catholic Church is said to be withering. How do you compare the appeal of Catholicism and strength of Catholicism in the different places you have traveled?

SENNOTT: Well, I think when you travel in Europe, or when you live in Europe, as I do, one of the things that really strikes you when you're in the churches is that they're empty. The people who are in church these days, if there are any, tend to be old women with gray hair, or elderly couples. The vitality of the church in Europe is gone. It's a very frail, withering church. And this is one of the real issues that will face the next papacy, and that is, the kind of encroaching secularism of the West. And I think how to confront that is an issue of the next papacy that's going to be very interesting to watch.

There are some who say the church needs to modernize, it needs to engage with this modern secular European culture. There are others who say, no, it's got to be exactly the opposite, that the church needs to hold the line, preserve those values. And I think the church is very much at a crossroads, especially in Europe, on this issue.

MANN: Let's look to another region. You've written at length about Christianity in the Christian holy land, where also for very different reasons, it seems to be in decline.

SENNOTT: You know, this pope made his pilgrimage to the holy land, and it was such a powerful part of his amazing life. I know that you were part of that coverage, and you saw that. And that was such an intense experience, to hear this pope speak to all sides of the divide in the holy land, to the Jewish faith, to the Israelis, by touching the Western Wall, to Muslims. But I think he had a special message for a dwindling Christian presence in the holy land. If you remember, he told them to be courageous, to stand strong, and to stay in the holy land. He asked them to maintain their presence, because the living community of the church is so important in the land where the faith began.

But that community is greatly challenged by all of the turmoil and tumult of the Middle East, by the rise of Islam, by occupation on the Israeli side, by all of these forces. And they are really forcing the Christians out. I think you could say that. And I think it's a dramatic disappearance of the Christian presence. The pope has spoken very eloquently and powerfully about that.

MANN: Charles Sennott of the "Boston Globe," speaking to us at a time when faith seems very strong. The crowd attest to it. So many people gathered in St. Peter's Square. Thank you so much for talking with us.

SENNOTT: Thank you.

VERJEE: The pope's long struggle with health problems has been a very public one, and he hasn't let pain and discomfort stop him from carrying out what he considers God's work. A religion analyst from the "Chicago Tribune" takes a look at how the pope considers suffering to be both a mission and a message.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) STEVE KLOEHN, CHICAGO TRIBUNE: He brought with him a vigor and an optimism and an energy level that the Vatican hadn't seen in decades. And that made a huge impression. He was the vigorous mountain climbing pope, the pope who went on ski vacations. He was the pope who was willing to take off his zuketto and throw on a cowboy hat and scoop up a little toddler in his arms.

He had always been an outdoorsy guy, and so he brought that all to the papacy. When he stood at an altar, he was not hunched. He was not tentative. He stood strong. And his voice rang out a deep, beautiful baritone. And when he was away from the altar, he was striding through crowds. The energy just came through.

The first great change in his physical appearance was when he was shot in 1981 in st. Peter's square. The assassination attempt that very nearly took his life. He wasn't afraid to share that with the world. There are pictures of him in his hospital bed in 1981 recovering from that gunshot wound. No pope before then had allowed that kind of imagery to go out to the public. But he wanted them to know that he was somebody who suffered like all other human beings.

In the mid-1990s, we began to see the first symptoms of Parkinson's disease. Obviously it was taking a toll on his endurance. Over the years as age and illnesses and the shooting began to take their toll, there were some people who expected the pope to change his approach, to somehow back away from the public stage, to hide. That wasn't at all what he had in mind. He wanted to continue to live life, which included both the good and the bad, and live it publicly. He said it was more important to be there and be part of it and let people see him suffer than to try to hide that. And there were deep theological roots to that.

The other point he wanted to make clear was that suffering was an important part of the Christian story. And that in some small way, when human beings suffered, the pope, or anybody, they take some small share in the suffering of Christ on the cross.

His view of life was a deep, personal love of life. It was part of how he felt about abortion. It was part of how he felt about capital punishment. For him, it was all about the sanctity of life. His legacy can be approached from any of a thousand different directions. And different people will find different things in their legacy from him. But I think his physical person, his being, his life story, will be part of it for almost everybody who witnessed him.


MANN: The pilgrimage to St. Peter's is drawing Catholics from around the world. And we made efforts talk to one of them now, the Reverend Felix Lopez, who has come from Spain.

Thank you so much for talking with us. Why have you come?

FATHER FELIX LOPEZ, SPANISH PILGRIM: I'm coming from Spain. I just came today, because this pope has been very important in my life. I really discovered my vocation with his help. And all his letters and his majesterium (ph) and his example, has been really, really important in my life. Then that's why I want to be here with him, to show him my gratitude, my support, with my prayer and my presence here.

Today when you enter into St. Peter's Square, you can see everybody there, and everybody showing his love and his gratitude to the holy father, because he has been giving his life, during 27 years, giving his life for the Church and for Christ. And you can see the fruit of his work. The fruit of his life, that life that he has given. He was not keeping himself. And you can see a lot of young people are singing, praying with him so that even from his bed, he can feel our support and our gratitude. That's why we are here.

MANN: Are you talking to the people around you? Do the people there feel like strangers crushed in next to each other? Or are they getting to know each other?

LOPEZ: Well, I was -- I came with a few people from Spain, some members of my community, some sisters, some other priests. But also I met somebody that was coming from Germany. They were traveling, they were driving the whole night just to be here with the holy father today. Because they had the same feeling, they wanted to be here with him, all as a sign of gratitude for him, for his ministry.

MANN: It is almost 9:30 at night there. How long will you stay in the square?

LOPEZ: We will spend, you know, with part of the night in prayer, with a lot of people there. Because that's the best way in which we can show our support in asking the Lord to be with the holy father, very close to him, giving him the courage, you know to live until the end of his life as he has been doing.

MANN: It's a complicated thing, traveling between countries, and finding a place to stay. Did you arrange all of that, or is that still ahead?

LOPEZ: Well, I have some sisters here who were able to receive me. Then I have yes, I have very simple bed, but that was enough for me. Even if I have to sleep on the ground with a sleeping bag, I would come to be here.

MANN: How long will you stay in Rome?

LOPEZ: I will be here -- I want to be in the burial for the holy father. We don't know when he is going die. But it will probably be this night or maybe tomorrow. But probably I will stay here for his burial, too.

MANN: Father Felix Lopez, thank you so much for talking with us.

LOPEZ: Okay. God bless you.

MANN: Extraordinary. All those people coming, making their way, really, just standing there trying to share something with each other and with the pope. VERJEE: And each one have an individual story, like that that we heard, and so many of them saying that the pope has touched them in a very poignant and specific way.

MANN: We're going to take a short break, and then we'll get the latest for you on the pope's condition.

VERJEE: As well as who might be in line to take over once the pope passes. Stay with us.


MANN: Welcome back to our coverage as we follow the declining health of Pope John Paul II. I'm Jonathan Mann.

VERJEE: And I'm Zain Verjee. Let's bring you up to date now with the latest developments.

MANN: The Vatican says that the Pope remains in very serious condition. And has a high fever. But he is still responsive, it says, when addressed by aides. Tens of thousands of the faithful are gathered in St. Peter's Square praying for the Pope outside his Vatican apartment. The 84-year-old pontiff's health is rapidly declining in the last few days and his heart and kidneys failing after he suffered a urinary tract infection.

VERJEE: Hundreds of the faithful have made their way to St. Peter's Square to say what they believe will be their last good-byes to a popular pope. Ben Wedeman has that story.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT(voice over): In St. Peter's Square, it almost seems like an ordinary spring afternoon. The crowd is larger than usual, but two months after Pope John Paul's health began to deteriorate, visitors from around the world seemed to be resigned to the inevitable. Linda Subda (ph) flew from Beirut for a last good-bye.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's sad to see him go. He's a great man and we don't want him to go. But this is life. And when it's time to go and see God, it's time to go.

WEDEMAN: Angelo Zackera (ph) rushed to Rome from southern Italy to pay his respects to a man he considers his second father.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I don't think he wants to die Angelo says. He wants to stay with us.

WEDEMAN: For the faithful, there's no reason to mourn, says this Catholic historian Patrick Macmallan.

PATRICK MACMALLAN, CATHOLIC HISTORIAN: Jesus says in the gospel, good and well done the faithful servant, enter into the joy of your master. Now is the time for the good and faithful servant to go to the eternal joy. WEDEMAN: But to those who have flocked here, letting go of the man who has inspired their faith isn't easy. Ben Wedeman, CNN, Rome.


MANN: Well increasingly as we've heard, people are talking about the death of the Pope as being close at hand. And his death, much like the death of any heads of state, puts into motion a series of carefully orchestrated ceremonies and rituals, all steeped in tradition.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE, (voice over): He was a very different man with a similar title. His funeral was more than a quarter century ago; so long ago that even these pictures are showing their age. But they offer similarities to what the world will soon see once again. Pope John Paul I died in September of 1978. What followed then, what will follow now, is a matter of tradition and church law. The day after the Pope's death marks the start of nine days of mourning, known as Nomen Damli. The Pope's body is carried into St. Peters Basilica to line in state and it is placed inside a triple wooden casket. The Pope may be buried on the fourth, fifth or sixth day after his death.

At least 15 days after his death and no more than 20, the Vatican and the cardinals who have gathered there will turn to a new duty, the selection of the next Pope. The man who will most influence them is in fact the late John Paul II. He picked nearly all the cardinals who will vote, decided how the vote will be organized and even arranged the accommodation. The gathering is called a conclave, because the cardinals are considered locked in together with a key, unable to communicate with the outside world in any way, emerging only when they elect a new Pope. Most people who visit the Vatican would hardly consider that punishment, but the clerics who gather for a papal conclave have sometimes found it exhausting.

The voting is slow and repetitive; the living arrangements are often improvised and uncomfortable. Conditions will be a bit better this time. Under John Paul II, the Vatican built the St. Martha house the dome less Santa Marta a hotel for visiting nuns and clergy that will be emptied of the guests and restricted to the cardinals and officials attending the conclave.

Like the other places where the cardinals will gather, it will be swept for microphones and listening devices. It's phone lines will be cut for the duration. From Santa Marta the cardinals will make their way each day to the Sistine Chapel where they will meet to vote and probably vote again and again. In their first votes, perhaps as many as four of them a day, the cardinals will need to assemble a two- thirds majority in order to elect a Pope. But depending on the pace of their balloting and other factors, the cardinals can decide after about 30 votes to elect a Pope by a lesser margin. A simple majority.

This is one of John Paul II's reforms, and it means that if a determined group of cardinals can stay loyal to a single candidate long enough, they stand a better chance of getting him elected. That new rule maybe a key reason for a lengthy conclave. All through the conclave, each time the votes are cast and counted, the ballots are burned. The crowds who gather in the Vatican's square will know that additives in the smoke rising from the Sistine Chapel will make it burn black for inconclusive vote white for a successful one. Shortly after they see white smoke, they will hear the first news.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Habemus papam (ph)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Habemus papam (ph) have a Pope. A man will walk out as his predecessors have to present himself or to be et orbi, to the city, and the world.


MANN: Theoretically any priest from anywhere in the world can be elevated to the papacy.

VERJEE: In practice however the College of Cardinals has always elected one of its own and who might that be. Paula Zahn reports that there are three men considered front-runners.


PAULA ZAHN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Cardinal Francis Arinza, Cardinal Deanege (ph) Tettamonzi. These three names are unfamiliar. But Vatican watchers say they are among the front-runners to be the next Pope. The College of Cardinals shocked the world in 1978 when they chose a polish cardinal, making Pope John Paul II the first non-Italian Pope in more than 450 years.

That shift, away from the Italian domination in the Catholic Church, has continued over the past 26 years. Today the church's strongest growth is in third world countries, more than half the world's Catholics live in Asia, Africa, Latin and South America. And many say it's only a matter of time before a Pope comes from one of these regions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From the beginning of time --

ZAHN: That could help the chances of Cardinal Arinze, the Vatican's fourth-ranking prelate who is from Nigeria. If elected, he would be only the second African to head the church. Like John Paul II, Arinze is a staunch conservative. He's also one of the Pope's closest advisers. But some Vatican watchers say age may prove to be a factor, that an older cardinal has the best chance to become the next Pope.

Many believe the current papacy has lasted too long, and that the next pontiff will be a transition Pope. That thinking increases the prospects for Cardinal Ratzinger of Germany. He will turn 78 in mid- April. As head of the church's congregation for the doctrine of the faith, he has been a strong enforcer of the Pope's conservative positions on church doctrine. Others say there's a powerful sentiment to return to tradition. And elect an Italian.

Which would make Cardinal Tettamonzi a favorite. Known for his diplomatic skills, Cardinal Tettamonzi the Archbishop of Wahn (ph) is also close to opus day, the ultra conservative catholic group. Ultimately the person who may have the most influence on who becomes the next Pope is John Paul II. He was responsible for appointing almost all of the 117 cardinals eligible to vote. Making it very likely that the next Pope will share Pope John Paul II's conservative stances on issues like abortion and the role of women in the church. But all the speculation about front-runners is just speculation. There's a saying in Rome, to enter the conclave believing one will become Pope is a sure way to exit it a cardinal.


VERJEE: That was Paula Zahn reporting. We want to go over now to CNN's Vatican analyst Delia Gallagher. She joins us now from Rome. Delia do the crowds that have gathered there in Peter's Square know about the latest update from the Vatican on the Pope's condition?

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN VATICAN ANALYST: Well, Zain they do but they know more about it by word of mouth, perhaps. Because in the square they don't have any access to television or to the wire service reports. So a lot of them actually are coming up and asking us, what is the latest. So that is the way they're getting their information. But probably most of them are there to support the Pope. They're participating right now in a prayer service. So I think that their thoughts are really just with him at the moment. Zain.

VERJEE: I don't know if you've had a chance to go to St. Peter's Square to talk to some of the people there. If you have, tell us what it was like, what they were saying. And if you haven't, give us a sense of the overall atmosphere that you're hearing there.

GALLAGHER: Well, yes, I have, I've gone up there several times today. You know, the crowds wax and wane. I find in the evening, yesterday evening, like this evening, they tend to come down in larger numbers. And it's very interesting. You know, I've met some Italians and they say it's not the first time that they've had this experience. With John the 23rd in 1963, he was ill for three days, dying for three days from cancer. In all those three days, Italians came down to the square. He was known as the good Pope. He was very much loved by Italians. And he was the Pope who opened the second Vatican council.

So they have experienced this before. Rome and the Vatican have seen these days of waiting and prayer for the Pope. And the announcement of John the 23rd's death actually came in St. Peter's Square at the end of a mass, which was held on the 3rd of June. And the cardinal, Vicar at that time, who is the man who has to officially announce the death of the Pope, was saying the mass, the Pope died right at the end of it and so the cardinal made the announcement. That mass was televised live all over Italy. So Italians, even in 1963, were receiving this news via television. Zain.

VERJEE: Delia, Italians themselves are encouraging each other, aren't they, to go down to St. Peter's Square. I understand there's a lot of texts and phone messages being sent back and forth saying, look, come down to St. Peter's Square and let's pray for the Pope. GALLAGHER: Absolutely. I mean you cannot underestimate the affection that Romans in particular have for this Pope. Italy is still a very sort of regional country, and Rome is very proud to have this Pope with them. The first non-Italian in so many years. And yet they've taken him to heart. You know, when the Pope was elected in 1978, and came out on the balcony in St. Peter's Square, the first thing he did was say to the Italians, you know, I don't speak your language very well, but if I make a mistake, you will correct me. He made an immediate impact with the Italians. I think from that day forward, they have always loved him. Zain.

VERJEE: Has daily life; has political life in Rome, other parts of Italy, come to a standstill?

GALLAGHER: Well, it's interesting. We heard the mayor this morning talking about some of the things that Rome has to do now with the huge influx of people that will be coming for these events. And of course, there are all kinds of transportation issues, and so on, that Rome has to handle. The other thing is that they are in their general election period. So there are many regional elections happening. Those are going to continue. But I think that, you know, on the whole, they are trying to do their best to weigh the few things. Of course sports being very important here. They have canceled some of their football, soccer games. So they're doing the best to keep things moving. But at the same time show their respect for this Pope.

VERJEE: When do we anticipating another statement, the next statement from the Vatican on the Pope's condition? Very, very briefly.

GALLAGHER: Well, I think that will be tomorrow. Based on what we had in the past few days, two a day seems to be what the standard is. I expect tomorrow. Zain.

VERJEE: Delia Gallagher thanks. John.

MANN: This just in to CNN. A report coming from the U.S. Army of an attack on Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. The report says that at least 20 U.S. troops were wounded in the insurgent attack. We have no other information other than that. But the Reuters news agency quoting a U.S. army statement says at least 20 U.S. troops have been wounded in an insurgent attack on Abu Ghraib Prison. Familiar to us all, of course, because of the abuse scandal that unfolded there. Now a very different story from Abu Ghraib. We're trying to get more details. When they come in, we, of course will share them.

We'll take this opportunity also to update you on other stories that we're following. The Parliament of Kyrgystan it's speaker says that the ousted president Oscar Akayev has verbally agreed to resign without returning to the country itself. Members of the commission had been seeking his former resignation and they are on their way to Moscow Sunday. Akayev fled to Russia after opposition protests forced him from office March 24th. The president of the country's constitutional courts said Saturday that a presidential election will be held in June in Kyrgyzstan regardless of whether the ousted President Akayev actually resigns. VERJEE: Zimbabwe's president Robert Mugabe has secured a two- thirds majority in Thursdays the parliamentary election. It wants 78 seats in addition to the 30 Mr. Mugabe will by law appoint. That allows Zanu (ph) party to change the country's constitution without a referendum. The opposition movement for Democratic change won only 41 seats and says it's been cheated for the third time in five years. Former information minister won the only seat by an independent candidate.

A special coverage continues right after this break.

WANN: We will get some reaction to the Pope's health crisis from across the U.s. and elsewhere. We also hope to have more about the attack at Abu Ghraib. Stay with us.


VERJEE: All right. There's been some developments in Iraq -- Jonathan.

MANN: Details are still sketchy and CNN is trying hard to confirm them. But the Reuters News Agency quoting U.S. Lieutenant Cornal Guy Retsell (ph) speaks of what sounds like an extraordinary attack on Abu Ghraib Prison. Dozens of insurgents in an hour-long assault, what Reuters is telling us is that dozens of them attacked the prison outside Baghdad detonating two suicide car bombs and firing rocket-propelled grenades at U.S. forces. The assault was repelled, but at least 20 U.S. soldiers are reported by the Reuter news agency as having been wounded in the fighting. At least 12 detainees were also wounded.

Once again this information coming from the Reuter News Agency, which is quoting the U.S. military. U.S. forces responded with all of this heavy weapons. And the situation was said to have been brought under control. But at least two car bombs are spoken of. According to Reuters, the second car bomb was detonated against the U.S. forces as they were trying to evacuate the wounded from the first car bomb blast. An attack on Abu Ghraib Prison, details are sketchy, but at least 20 U.S. forces are said to have been wounded. The attack was repelled. But a very bloody day at Abu Ghraib. We are still working on our end to try to find out more. Zain.

VERJEE: Jonathan, in the United States, many of America's more than 60 million Catholics attended services to offer special prayers. Worshipers gathered at churches across the country. Including Boston's Holy Cross Cathedral, which the Pope visited in 1979. In Washington Archbishop Theodore Macarick (ph) celebrated a mid day mass for the Pope. He called the pontiff an extraordinary gift to the America Catholic community.

For more on how Catholics in the U.S. are reacting on the Pope's condition, we're joined by CNN's Kelly Wallace in New York City. Kelly.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Zain it is a rainy and dreary day today in New York City. Some people commenting, saying sort of the weather matching the mood of many New Yorkers. In particular, some 4 million Catholics living in New York City and the surrounding areas. All throughout the day, we have seen people coming in and leaving St. Patrick's Cathedral. Some people going to pray, light candles, reflect on the Pope. Earlier in the day, there have been masses here, and a mass earlier this morning the monsignor talked about what could be, he said, the final hours of the Pope. But he said instead of grieving, people should be thankful for all that Pope John Paul II accomplished.

We talked earlier with a couple. Happened to be from Poland. They live now in New Jersey. And they told us; they actually met the Pope about five or six years ago. And we asked them what makes the Pope so special.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Especially for a polish people, first of all, he is from Poland. And what he's done to our country, for the whole world, for Eastern Europe. We all know about it. And we're very thankful for that. And he's going to stay and live with us all the time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you look at him, he's just like a peaceful, you know, good-hearted man. A good soul. I mean, he touches everyone. Not just Catholics, but everybody in the world. I mean he had compassion for everyone, you know. He tried to bring all the religions together somewhat, you know. He traveled all over the world just to make contact with people. And tried to, you know, do his best that he could, you know, to bring peace in the world.


WALLACE: And other New Yorkers reminiscing on the two visits by the Pope to the New York area. The first one in 1979, the second and last in 1995. The highlight of that trip, a mass in Central Park. More than 100,000 people on the great lawn of the Central Park to hear the Pope. And the Pope there showing his humor, Zain, because he spoke in Latin. And at the end of the mass, he said you all are applauding so loudly but you didn't understand. But clearly, New Yorkers liked what they were seeing.

Also, Zain during those two visits in 1979 and 1995 as we were noting, the Pope made time to visit St. Patrick's Cathedral. There are plaques outside the cathedral noting that. During the 1995 visit after he was here in the Cathedral, he gave some New Yorkers quite a surprise, because instead of getting in his car, he went ahead and walked from here over to the Vatican home of Cardinal O'Connor then. People on the street all of a sudden were seeing the Pope, much to their surprise. Zain.

VERJEE: Kelly, is it your sense there from the people that you've spoken to, the Pope as revered by the youth as much as by the older generation?

WALLACE: Absolutely. It's funny you ask that. I was just speaking with a 14-year-old boy before. Of course, this is the only Pope that he has ever known. And he said that the Pope just did so much to reach out to people of all ages. And that is what you are hearing. During his visits, during his travels to more than 100 countries, that he delighted the older generation, but also the younger generation. And many of these young people now say it's the only Pope they have ever known. So they're very concerned about what will come from here. Zain.

VERJEE: Are most people, Kelly, paying tribute to his greatness, or is there an overwhelming sense of sadness?

WALLACE: Overwhelming sense of sadness. Everybody you talk to, they say it's just so sad. That polish couple that we were so fortunate to meet earlier in this day, one woman, Eva, said it best, she said I'm just not ready to say good-bye. Not ready to say good-bye yet. But then as you talked to people a little bit longer, they are starting to think, they're reflecting on his legacy, reflecting on all that he has accomplished, and they say they're hopeful -- one person said, no one can quite fill his shoes, but we're hopeful the church can move on from here.

VERJEE: Did they feel that the Pope was somewhat that championed the poor? Was someone that fought for them in person?

WALLACE: That's something else you hear. That this Pope spoke directly to people of all ages, of all classes, of all walks of life. They felt that he was very down to earth. Definitely a champion for the poor, a champion for human rights. I think they see this in where he traveled. Traveling, again, to so many countries. But even when he came here to the New York area, he went to places like the south Bronx and spent time in Harlem. Was out in Yonkers. He also went to Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium. Places that were accessible for people from all walks of life, all classes, so that they all could get a sense and get a chance to see and hear from him.

VERJEE: Describe some of the stories, some more of the stories that you heard from people that you spoke to about their admiration, about their fondness for the Pope.

WALLACE: It's everything. We talked to a couple from Maryland who actually were just visiting New York and they said yesterday morning they were walking by on their way to Tiffany's in fact and they saw all the cameras, and they right away thought, oh, my goodness, something happened to the Pope. And they were reflecting on how they saw him in Baltimore in 1979. And again, they said that it was just something so incredible. Really unforgettable moment when they were there and they were seeing him. We also spoke to, Zain, a...

VERJEE: All right Kelly Wallace reporting from New York. Thanks Kelly -- Jonathan.

MANN: A statement now from the Vatican about Pope John Paul II.


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