WADOWICE, Poland – In big cities and quiet villages, Roman Catholics around the world stopped Thursday to pray for Pope John Paul II (search) as word spread that he had again been rushed to the hospital, where he underwent a tracheotomy to help him breathe.
In Wadowice (search), the small town in southern Poland where the pope was born, people offered special prayers at an afternoon mass at St. Mary's Church, where Karol Wojtyla was baptized and attended Mass for years before he became a priest.
"We have prayed for the pope to live as long as possible so we can still share our joy with him," said Zofia Gebala, a 73-year-old retiree, as she left the service. "We are praying for him every day, for his well-being. But it's all in God's hands now."
Gebala said the pope should have taken it easy and not appeared at an open window in St. Peter's Square to say Sunday Angelus prayers. "He should really take better care of himself — he would be healthier then and rested," she said. "Why is he working so hard?"
In Warsaw, a fresh bouquet of yellow tulips lay at the base of a statue of the pope holding a crucifix-engraved pastoral staff. In overwhelmingly Catholic Poland, love for the pope mingles piety and patriotism.
The news spread quickly, with the pope's illness flashed on television just as news shows were ending in the Philippines. Church officials flashed a prayer request to the faithful by text message on their cell phones.
Brigid Nolan, 73, saw the news on television in Dublin, Ireland, and walked over to St. Columba's church. She lit a candle and offered a five-minute prayer for the pope and her own struggle with Parkinson's disease, which the pope suffers from too.
"I do draw inspiration from his own fight for life," she said. "He is suffering, but he's surviving, and more power to him. I get angry when people say he should quit. He should keep going for every minute God gives him."
In central London, people leaving midday Mass at St. Etheldreda's Church also had the pope on their minds.
"I think he has a lot of work to do yet," said businesswoman Patricia Cullen, 43. She's hoping to go see John Paul when he visits Cologne, Germany later this year.
Fidelis Adeyemi prayed Thursday at the Church of Assumption in the Ikoyi district of Nigeria's biggest city, Lagos. "Every time I pray, I remember the pope," Adeyemi said.
Fellow parishioner Adaora Okolo said all prayed regularly for the pope's health. "We believe God will hear our prayers and keep him alive," said Okolo.
In Detroit, Polish-American Cardinal Adam Maida (search), a longtime friend of the pope, called on the people to remember John Paul and issued a suggested prayer.
"Father of all life, we ask your special blessing and protection for our Holy Father on earth," Maida, who filled in for the pope at a 1999 service in Poland when John Paul fell ill, said in his message.
"We pray that through his suffering we may deepen our own faith in the mystery and hope of sharing in Christ's Resurrection. According to your will, restore him to the service of your church and keep us all in your peace."
In Mexico City, scores of people turned out to pray for the pope at the Basilica of Guadalupe.
"The relapse is worse than the illness," retiree Narciso Reyes, 72, said in the shadow of a towering bronze statue of John Paul II outside the national basilica. "Let God accompany him and care for him in the illness he has."
The pope visited the basilica in 2002 when he declared the sainthood of Juan Diego, an Indian peasant to whom church tradition says the Virgin Mary appeared some 500 years ago.