VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope John Paul II died on Saturday, the Vatican announced. The 84-year-old Pontiff, who had headed the Roman Catholic Church for 26 years, died at 9:37 p.m. (2:37 p.m. EST), a statement said.
“The Holy Father died this evening at 21.37 in his private apartment,” the statement said.
The news was immediately announced to huge crowds gathered in St Peter’s Square.
John Paul will be remembered for his role in the collapse of communism in Europe and his unyielding defense of traditional Vatican doctrines as leader of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics.
Huge crowds had staged a tearful vigil in St. Peter’s Square, praying for a man already being dubbed by some Catholics as “John Paul the Great.”
The Pope’s health had deteriorated steadily over the past decade and earlier this year took a sharp turn for the worse.