Vatican says Pope John Paul II has died

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Pope John Paul II, the Polish pontiff who led the Roman Catholic Church for more than a quarter century and became history's most-travelled pope, has died at 84, the Vatican announced tonight.

Pope John Paul II, the Polish pontiff who led the Roman Catholic Church for more than a quarter century and became history's most-travelled pope, has died at 84, the Vatican announced tonight.

"The Holy Father died this evening at 9:37 p.m. in his private apartment. All the procedures outlined in the apostolic Constitution 'Universi Dominici Gregis' that was written by John Paul II on Feb. 22, 1996, have been put in motion."

The announcement came from papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls and was distributed to journalists via e-mail.

The pope died after suffering heart and kidney failure following two hospitalizations in as many months. Just a few hours earlier, the Vatican has said he was in "very serious" condition but had responded to members of the papal household.

Since his surprise election in 1978, John Paul travelled the world frequently, staunchly opposing communism in his native Poland and across the Soviet bloc, but also preaching against rampant consumerism, contraception and abortion.

Since his surprise election in 1978, John Paul traveled the world frequently, staunchly opposing communism in his native Poland and across the Soviet bloc, but also preaching against rampant consumerism, contraception and abortion.

John Paul was a robust 58-year-old when the cardinals stunned the world and elected the cardinal from Krakow, the first non-Italian pope in 455 years.

In his later years, however, John Paul was the picture of frailty, weighed down by ailments that included Parkinson's disease. Although he kept up his travels, he was too weak to kiss the ground any more. A fierce enemy of communism, he set off the sparks that helped bring down communism in Poland, from where a virtual revolution spread across the Soviet bloc. No less an authority than former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev said much of the credit went to John Paul.

At the same time, John Paul was no friend of Western lifestyles, warning against rampant consumerism and casual sex.

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