VATICAN CITY – Just before he died, Pope John Paul II (search) stared from his bed at the window of his airy, sparsely furnished Vatican bedroom, looking toward the crowd gathered below in St. Peter's Square, and whispered "Amen," according to accounts of the pontiff's last moments.
While the Vatican has not confirmed either story or given its own version of John Paul's final words, two accounts claim the pope's last utterance was "Amen," the traditional close of a prayer. Amen is Hebrew (search) for "may it be so." It was not clear, however, if the story originated from more than one source.
The Rev. David O'Connell (search), president of Catholic University in Washington, D.C., said in a televised interview on Sunday that a cardinal, a friend whom he did not identify by name, recounted that just before the pope died at 9:37 p.m. Saturday he grasped the hand of his long-serving private secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz.
"And looking out the window, the curtains were not drawn, he was looking out the window. And he said, 'Amen.' And then he passed on — beautiful, touching communication, a sense that it was finished, it was over," O'Connell said.
The Italian newspaper La Repubblica quoted the Rev. Jarek Cielecki, a Polish priest, as saying that the 84-year-old pope raised his right hand as if to offer a blessing to those reciting the rosary in the square.
"Once the faithfuls' prayer ended the pope made a huge effort and pronounced the word 'Amen,"' he said. "An instant later he died."
The newspaper did not say how Cielecki learned those details.
The Holy See said in a statement that the Vatican celebrated a Mass for John Paul and he received the sacrament for the sick and dying for the second time this week in the 97 minutes before he died on Saturday.
The Vatican said a Mass for the Feast of Divine Mercy was celebrated beginning at 8 p.m. and was officiated over by Dziwisz, Ukrainian Cardinal Marian Jaworski and two Polish prelates.
The sacrament for the sick and dying, formerly known as last rites, was administered, along with Viaticum, or communion received when death appears imminent.
The Rev. Pawel Ptasznik, the chief of the Polish section at the Vatican, visited John Paul and left shortly before noon with tears in his eyes, Milan daily Corriere della Sera reported.
"I kneeled, Don Stanislaw (Dziwisz) told him who I was, he opened his eyes, he looked at me and made a sign of the cross on my forehead with the thumb of his right hand," Ptasznik told the newspaper.
In his last hours, the pontiff lay in bed in a tangle of medical tubes and probes. Dziwisz did not leave his side and held the pope's hand, which he occasionally caressed slowly. Around them, tearful Polish nuns recited the rosary, La Repubblica reported.
Present at the moment of death were his two secretaries, Dziwisz and Monsignor Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki, Cardinal Marian Jaworski, Archbishop Stanislaw Rylko, the Rev. Tadeusz Styczen, three nuns who assist the pope and their superior, Sister Tobiana Sobodka.
The pope's personal physician, Dr. Renato Buzzonetti, with the two doctors on call, Dr. Alessandro Barelli and Dr. Ciro D'Allol, and two nurses on call, also were with the pontiff as he died.
The Vatican said the pope's final hours were marked by the "uninterrupted prayer of all those who were assisting him in his pious death and by the choral participation in prayer of the thousands of faithful who for many hours had been gathered in St. Peter's Square."