Pope Paul VI's life on earth came to an end peacefully and serenely last Sunday evening, at the age of 80.
The end. in the tranquility of the Papal Summer Residence at Castelgandolfo was "unforeseen and sudden", as the Vatican stated. despite the Pope's own admonitions over the past two years that he felt his death nearing.
In fact, only six days before, visiting the tomb of Cardinal Guiseppe Pizzardo, a great friend who had died at the age of 93, the Holy Father told the small crowd present: "We hope to meet him after death which for us cannot be far away, in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Seemingly Pope Paul had been well despite the obvious pain of his acute arthritis. On the Wednesday he had held his usual weekly general public audience and spoken to sonic 8,000 people from the Villa balcony on faith.
On the Thursday he had received the newly elected Italian President, Sandro Pertini, in private audience. only the third such private audience of these past summer weeks. The other two had been that of Miss Lillian, President Carter's mother and some Italian generals who had made him a "professional aviator".
However, while Rome sweltered in near tropical heat, the humidity of the cooler Alban Hills air caused the Pope ever increasing arthritic pain and on the
Friday his doctor. Professor Mario Fontana. ordered him to bed for a rest, cancelling his Sunday noon Angelus talk.
Then at 3.30, while Don Pasquale Macchi. the Holy Father's private secretary, was celebrating mass. as usual at the bedside. Pope Paul suffered a heart attack.
Cardinal Jean Villot administered the sacrament of the sick. once called the last unction, which today is administered to nearly all sick persons. The last time the Pope had his administered to him was when he was about to undergo a prostate operation in 1967.
Prof Fontana, assisted by Prof Renato Buzzanetti. Took emergency measures. But the heart attack was followed by a pulmonary edema. an accumulation of fluid in the lungs. Oxygen was being administered in a futile effort to keep the Pope breathing when he died. at 9.40. Italian time.
Almost to the last. and just before going into a coma an hour before he died, Paul remained lucid and aware of what was happening around him. occasionally exchanging a few words with those in the room.
Archbishop Gaetano Bonicelli, of Albano, who spent the day at the summer residence, quoted the Pope's last words as "The death of a Pope is like that of other men. But it can always teach others something."
At the Papal bedside when the Pope died were also Cardinal Villot. Secretary of State and Camerlengo (Chamberlain) of the Holy Roman Church. and Archbishop Giuseppe Caprio, surrogate Secretary of State, whom the Pope had named to replace Giovanni Benelli when he appointed him Cardinal of Florence.
Pope Paul had suffered attacks of influenza in February. late March and April of this year, the last bout forcing him to cancel many of the Easter Week ceremonies such as the washing of feet at the Lateran Basilica and the Way of the Cross at the Colosseum. But until the heart attack there had been no Sunday, August 6."
As Pastore was making his announcement. the bells of the Campane in St Peter's and bells at Castelgandolfo pealed a death knell.
In the little village church of St Thomas Aquinas,where Paul has always celebrated the final Sun day Mass of his summer stay, Don Fiore Pozzi, the parish priest, immediately began a Re quiem Mass. wearing the special gold and purple vestments given him only two days earlier by the Pope himself. The first time that he wore these Papal-gifted vestments was for the death of the donor. a sad irony.
A crowd quickly gathered outside the gates of the Castelgandolfo residence as the street lights of this village of 5,000 were put out. Many of the villagers were openly crying, others fell to their knees in prayer. A Papal assistant opened the doors to the Pope's balcony and flew the gold and white Papal banner at half-mast.
Following the centuries old rules of the church, the Pope was vested in red and gold, red slippers on his feet and short white mitre on his head. The sim
ple gold band ring he had designed and given to all Bishops taking part in Vatican Council II was on his finger.
On the Monday afternoon, the villagers of Castelgandolfo began filing past the funeral bier to pay their last respects to the Pontiff who had spent his past 15 summers in this quiet lakeside resort overlooking the extinct volcanic lake from which the hills take their name Lake Albano.
The College of Cardinals, the some 45 who have reached Rome, met and drew up plans for the Pope's funeral on Tuesday.
The body was brought back to Rome on Wednesday evening in a simple funeral procession. Pope Paul is lying in state in St Peter's until Saturday when the solemn funeral and burial will take place. It would appear that Rome as yet has not grasped the fact that the Pope, it's Bishop, has died.
There is none of the emotion packed drama that marked the passing of Pope John XXIII not merely because of the difference in impact that the two Popes had on the world but mainly because Pope Paul died suddenly and outside Rome.