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 Pope given 'last rites'

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ROME, April 1 - The condition of Pope John Paul II was "very grave," the Vatican said on Friday morning, and he had been given last rites after suffering heart failure on Thursday.

But the pope, 84, whose health has taken a steep dive in the last two months, had decided himself not to go to the hospital, and on Friday morning he was still "conscious, lucid and tranquil," his chief spokesman, Dr. Joaquin Navarro-Valls, said in a statement.

This latest health crisis - only a day after doctors fitted him with a feeding tube - was set off on Thursday by a urinary tract infection. That infection, the Vatican said on Thursday, caused a high fever in the already frail and weakened pope, who has suffered for more than a decade from Parkinson's disease.

Doctors began treating him with antibiotics at his apartment in the Vatican, and Vatican Radio reported overnight that the pope was responding well and that his condition appeared to have stabilized.

But the new Vatican announcement on Friday morning made it clear that the John Paul II, the 264th pope and one of the longest serving in history, was close to death.


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