The world held its breath
THE 92-hour death agony of Pope John XXIII ended on Monday night. His last words, before he slipped into the final coma, were those of his favourite prayer: "That all may be one".
One of the last messages of comfort to reach the dying Pontiff came from his beloved convicts in the Regina Coeli Prison: "Holy Father, we are close to you."
Events moved swiftly last week. The Wednesday crisis passed. On Thursday, the Pope was still fighting for his life—but holding his own. On Friday morning, Rome breathed more easily. At I p.m. came the thunderbolt: death seemed imminent.
Then followed the long drawn out agony—comas. the oxygen mask, lucid intervals, spasms of racking pain. And still the tough old heart went on beating with the regularity of a clock. At times the Pope's temperature struck 104, his body torn by stomach cancer, peritonitis, and prostate complications.
Cardinals came and went. The faithful Mgr. Capovilla stayed by the bedside with Pope John's three brothers, a sister. three nephews. and two nieces who are nuns.
In his conscious moments, the suffering Pontiff never lost his serenity, his concern for others, his almost mischievous cheerfulness. Clasping the little Crucifix he bought 37 years ago—after waiting a year before he could afford the 13 shillings it cost— Pope John constantly offered himself as a victim for the Church. the Council, and for peace.
To Mgr. Capovilla he said: "When this is over, mind you go and see your mother." To Cardinal Cicognani, he spoke his thanks to the college of Cardinals.
To Britain's Queen, he sent this message of thanks for her kind enquiries:
"We have a special prayerful remembrance for your children, whose names we heard from your own lips, and ask God to bless your majesty and the Royal Family." He heard of Mr. Krushchev's cable: "With deep sorrow we learn about the worsening condition of your health. This news has caused us deep concern. I hope from the bottom of my heart that you will get well." He heard too the message from his "pen-friend" Dr. Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury.
The Holy Father told his doctors not to worry so much. "My bags are packed and I sin ready— even very ready—to go", he said. He spoke of Lazarus and repeated
again and again: "I am the Resurrection and the Life."
Lying on his brass bed and gazing at the picture of Our Lady of Czestochowa, he murmured the words of the psalmist: "1 rejoice at what I have been told, We will go to the house of the Lord." And later: "I have been able to watch the course of my death step by step; now I am moving gently towards the end."
Throughout the last few days hundreds of thousands of people prayed in St. Peter's Square. On Monday night at 7 p.m., Cardinal Traglia offered Mass on the steps of the basilica. The floodlights went on. All eyes were trained on the high, lighted window where the Pope lay. He died at 7.49 p.m., and at 8 o'clock a hundred thousand watchers knelt and wept.